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Friday, 10 August 2018

Free RPG Day 2018: A Cable’s Length from Shore/On a Bank, by Moonlight

Now in its eleventh year, Saturday, June 16th was Free RPG Day  and with it came 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. Traditionally, what Pelgrane Press offers for Free RPG Day is not one, but two adventures combined in the one book. For Free RPG Day 2018, the two adventures are for the GUMSHOE System—Pelgrane Press’ clue orientated investigative mechanics—and both are Lovecraftian themed. The book is Free RPG Day – A Cable’s Length from Shore/On a Bank, by Moonlight. Both are quick-starts. One of these, ‘A Cable’s Length from Shore’, is for Cthulhu Confidential and thus designed as a GUMSHOE One-2-One Adventure to be played by the one player and a Game Moderator. The other is ‘On A Bank, By Moonlight’, which is a mission for the recently released The Fall of Delta Green.

As well as being written for use with Cthulhu Confidential, ‘A Cable’s Length from Shore’ is also set in another of Pelgrane Publishing’s settings, that of Bookhounds of London, in which the investigators attempt to keep the wolf from the door by tracking down the right books and finding the right customers for them. As a  GUMSHOE One-2-One Adventure, ‘A Cable’s Length from Shore’ comes with a single pre-generated character, Phyllis Oakley, a dealer in rare books. When not in the slightly odd bookshop she owns, Miss Oakley scours second-hand stalls, private auctions, secret bibliophile clubs, and more to find the special titles her clients want, sometimes turning to her contacts—lesser book-hunters and traders and barrow-rummagers—who might put a book her way. In return for a few quid that is… One of her best contacts was Alf Fulbrow. Unfortunately, he died six months ago, having drowned according to his daughter. Yet who left a rare occult book on Phyllis Oakley’s doorstep as the scenario opens?

What follows is a solid, well done plot, one that will not be unfamiliar to devotees of Lovecraftian investigative horror. This is no criticism though, for both said plot and the investigative process are presented with exceptional clarity and aplomb. Not just in the presentation of the scenario’s scenes—both core and alternate—but also the character of Phyllis Oakley, the challenges she might face, and the Problems and Edges she might acquire in the process. For the most part, an investigator in Cthulhu Confidential looks very much an investigator in Trail of Cthulhu, possessing a mix of investigative and general abilities. Her investigative skills allow her player to search for and discover core clues, whilst her general abilities represent more physical actions. Besides these, she also begins the scenario with four ‘Pushes’, each Push representing effort to gain more information, manipulate others, apply her knowledge, or change the narrative to her benefit. In addition, she can also call upon a Source, a NPC or acquaintance, upon whom she call for help and information. Though this can cost her a Push, it enables Phyllis to access a skill or knowledge she lacks. She has a handful of Sources, which nicely add to her background, as does the Problem she is suffering from. This might be debt or it might be a poltergeist haunting her shop, there being four to choose from at the start of the scenario.

Throughout the scenario, there are opportunities aplenty for Phyllis to gain more Problems as well as Edges, the latter being temporary advantages. These might last the entire scenario or they might last a scene or two. They are typically gained as the outcome of facing a challenge. These require dice rolls using Phyllis’ General Abilities and typically give three results—Advance (success), Hold (success, but), or Setback (failure). Sometimes there is a choice of Problems, but overall, the number of Problems that Phyllis can gain over the course of her investigations far outweigh the number of Edges she might gain.

‘A Cable’s Length from Shore’ consists of some twelve core scenes and some seven alternate scenes which together provide numerous paths of investigation and intrigue. Together they should offer one or two sessions of good roleplaying for Game Moderator and player alike. There are some nicely done creepy encounters too, which are only exacerbated by the fact that the Game Moderator and player are playing one-on-one, which makes for a more intense playing experience. Overall, ‘A Cable’s Length from Shore’ is a well-structured, well-written scenario that is easy to run and which deserves a sequel. In fact, Phyllis Oakley deserves an anthology of further adventures.

—oOo—

Where ‘A Cable’s Length from Shore’ is a quick-start for Cthulhu Confidential, ‘On A Bank, By Moonlight’ is a scenario for The Fall of DELTA GREEN, which adapts Arc Dream Publishing’s Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game to the GUMSHOE system. This is set in the 1960s when as the USA sends troops into Indochina and men to the moon, an authorised but unacknowledged national security black program known as Delta Green is tasked to hunt and destroy the Cthulhu Mythos. It might be the summer of love, but Delta Green agents must face unimaginable horror, learn things beyond the ken of man, and take actions which would damn their nonexistent souls, all to keep their family and their country from discovering the truth. What this means is that the investigators have more authority than in other roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror, but they have to be judicious with their use of that authority, primarily to ensure that their missions and the nature of the threats they uncover remain unknown to the public at large.

The quick-start includes an explanation of Delta Green and the GUMSHOE System in just five pages. It also includes six pre-generated investigators—two FBI Special Agents, a Treasury Department investigator, a Department of Veteran Affairs surgeon, a US Marine, and an archivist whose researches were just a little too left-field. One thing the players may need to do is define their investigators’ immediate family, but that is really only for roleplaying purposes in this quick-start.

The bulk of the quick-start is devoted to ‘On A Bank, By Moonlight’, a scenario which takes place in upstate New York in 1968. In the small town of Milltown two members of the same hippie commune die on the same night, one shot in self-defence by the police, the other in a car accident. Recovered from the scene was an idol similar to those found on previous Delta Green missions. The question is, how did they come to die, what were they doing with the idol, and does it have anything to do with the commune?

The investigation itself is not too complex and putting the clues together should not prove all that much of a challenge to the players and their investigators. Acting upon the information is more of a challenge—some of the commune members are surprisingly militant for hippies and there are other organisations with an interest in the commune too. Ideally, what should happen is that the investigators discover some of what is going on at the commune and infiltrate it just as whatever that is is coming to head and everything goes to hell in a hand-basket. And if the Game Moderator is not playing In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida as the investigators storm the compound, then she is not doing it right…

‘On A Bank, By Moonlight’ is written as an introductory scenario, designed to showcase the domestic—that is, the US mainland—side of Delta Green operations. Yet as a quick-start, it also introduces players to the investigative process and to the difficulties of handling the clean-up process, as well as introducing them to the true villains of the setting. It does a good job of all four.

—oOo—

Physically, Free RPG Day – A Cable’s Length from Shore/On a Bank, by Moonlight is well presented. In comparison, ‘On a Bank, by Moonlight’ feels more cluttered than ‘A Cable’s Length from Shore’, but it is given fewer pages. Thus, ‘A Cable’s Length from Shore’ feels more open and easier to run, certainly helpful given how the Game Moderator has to focus upon the one player. Of the two, ‘On a Bank, by Moonlight’ is let down by a couple of pieces of terrible artwork.

Free RPG Day – A Cable’s Length from Shore/On a Bank, by Moonlight presents two good scenarios and thus two good quick-starts. Both scenarios, and thus the book itself is worth getting even if you do not intend running either of them as quick-starts. In other words, Free RPG Day – A Cable’s Length from Shore/On a Bank, by Moonlight work as great additions to your campaign as well as a means to introduce their respective settings.