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

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Alone with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition I

One of the very first things released by Chaosium, Inc. for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition was Alone Against the Flames: A Solo Adventure for the Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed. Quick-Start Rules. As the title suggests this is not an adventure designed to be played using the full rules from Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, but those from the quick-start. The Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules provide the essential rules to the roleplaying game and presents them in more of a digest form, along with one of the most famous of Lovecraftian investigative horror scenarios for—‘The Haunting’. They are certainly enough to play through ‘The Haunting’ and they are certainly enough to play through Alone Against the Flames. Thus Alone Against the Flames is designed as introduction to Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, but one designed to be played alone—right from your very first steps into roleplaying. 

Set in the 1920s, Alone Against the Flames consists of some two-hundred-and-seventy separate entries across which the scenario’s plotlines and narrative are randomly distributed. Starting at the Introduction and paragraph one, the reader—or player—will wend his way through its plots and narrative, reading through a paragraph, following its instructions, and making a choice from the options presented at the end of each entry, skipping pages to the next paragraph, and so. Although the events of the scenario will play out as a narrative, with encounters being had, places being explored, clues being discovered, secrets being revealed, and shocks to the psyche being suffered the individual entries are not presented in narrative order. This will result in much flipping of pages back and forth as a narrative is played through, but it means that the scenario’s various storylines are kept hidden and thus it can be played more than once should a player want to discover all of the secrets in Alone Against the Flames.

Alone Against the Flames begins, not with a player character or investigator, but with a journey. The protagonist in Alone Against the Flames is leaving his or her hometown and travelling to Arkham, Massachusetts where he or she is due to take up a new job or post. As the journey progresses, the rules interject into the reader’s progress to ask him questions and have him make decisions about his investigator. So that by the time the reader and his investigator has reached the village of Emberhead where the actual mystery in Alone Against the Flames is set, the reader will have determined what the values of his character’s attributes are, what his profession is,what his occupational skills are, and what his personal interest skills. It also provides an opportunity for the reader to roll some dice too. So although the process is narratively and mechanically linear, by the time the reader and investigator has reached the village, both are ready to investigate its secrets.

The main story to Alone Against the Flames takes place in the isolated village of Emberhead. Here the investigator finds himself at a loose end as he awaits the next bus on towards Arkham. Although the inhabitants are more than accommodating, they also seem distracted with other matters and it is these distractions which will slowly come to concern the investigator as the story and his enquiries progress. The investigation itself is not overly complex—nor should it be given the introductory nature of the scenario—but it is against the clock. This places time constraints on the investigator and limits the number of lines of enquiry that he can follow. Again, this lends itself to returning and replaying through Alone Against the Flames as does the greater number of endings which result in the investigator’s death rather than his survival. Given its title, it should be no surprise that a great many of those fatal endings consist of a conflagration.

Should the investigator survive, he will have learned just a little of the Mythos and the true nature of the cosmos, encountered a darker side of humanity, and in game terms, earned some skill checks. He is ready then, to encounter yet more of the Mythos, perhaps in a fuller scenario with other investigators roleplayed by other players. If not, the player is ready to try again, perhaps with the same investigator reset, or with another created using narrative path method written into the first entries in Alone Against the Flames.

Physically, Alone Against the Flames is cleanly presented and unfussy throughout. Although lacking the colour and panache of Chaosium, Inc.’s later supplements for Call of Cthulhu, the solo adventure is both readable and accessible. There are no illustrations, but the layout is open enough so that each entry is discrete and easy to find. The rules are also nicely handled, only coming into play when necessary, whether that is investigator creation, rolling skills, or making a Sanity check. The story is equally as well written, nicely handling a growing sense of dread and tension as the reader and investigator progress through the scenario.

Since its original publication, Alone Against the Flames has been adapted as the first part of the ‘Lovecraft Country’ campaign for Cthulhu Chronicles. That version is much simpler, but it retains much the same storyline and encounters. Further, Alone Against the Dark will appear in the forthcoming Call of Cthulhu Starter Box, along with ‘Paperchase’, the classic one-on-one scenario from The Cthulhu Companion which also appears in Cthulhu Chronicles.

Veteran players of Call of Cthulhu will find Alone Against the Flames an easy scenario to play through as it is not too difficult and as fans of horror, will quickly be able to deduce what is going on in Emberhead. This does not mean that it is not challenging, and just like players new to Call of Cthulhu, they will probably find themselves replaying Alone Against the Flames more than once if their investigator is to survive.

That said, whilst there is nothing to stop a player creating an investigator using the full rules in Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition and using that to play through Alone Against the Flames, the scenario really is aimed at players new to Call of Cthulhu. To that end, Chaosium, Inc. has made both Alone Against the Flames and Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules to download here and here respectively. Plus, for the veteran Call of Cthulhu devotee there is a full campaign available, Alone Against the Dark.

Alone Against the Flames: A Solo Adventure for the Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed. Quick-Start Rules is a solid introduction to playing Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. It shows a player how to create an investigator and use the rules without ruining the tension and horror of the story, it showcases the mundane and the Mythos hand-in-hand, and it prepares a player—and hopefully his investigator—for the horrors to come in playing the many scenarios and campaigns available for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition.