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

Friday 20 January 2012

Medical Malpractice

Invasive Procedures is a scenario written for use with Fear Itself, Pelgrane Press’ RPG that pitches ordinary folk into a disturbing contemporary world of madness and violence. Like the majority of the titles published by Pelgrane Press, it uses the Gumshoe System, and so is compatible with its other two horror RPGs, Trail of Cthulhu and Esoterrorists. More particularly, Invasive Procedures includes notes that the GM can use to adapt the scenario so that it can be run specifically for Trail of Cthulhu. What helps with this is the fact that the scenario can easily be set during any period within the last one hundred years or so such that it could be run in the contemporary here and now of Delta Green, the 1890s of Cthulhu by Gaslight, the 1920s for classic Call of Cthulhu, the 1930s for Trail of Cthulhu, or indeed, any when in between. The scenario itself makes use of a foe first described in the publisher’s excellent supplement, The Book of Unremitting Horror, the details of which are included in Invasive Procedures. In the version that Pelgrane Press was kind enough to provide for the purpose of this review, the foe is described in a nine-page booklet that comes in an envelope glued inside the back cover. Later printings of scenario will have the description and motivation of this foe written in as part of the book.

Invasive Procedures works best as either a one-shot or as the opening chapter of a campaign. Its set-up is very specific, making it difficult to run as part of an on-going campaign. A quintet of pre-generated characters/investigators is included, and these can either be used as is, or as the models for characters of the players’ own creation. Using the provided characters as models is necessary, not because the characters are in any way special, but because of both how and where they are.

As the scenario opens, the player characters find themselves in hospital. They are each patients who have been moved from a county hospital to older facility where they are to recover from recent surgery. Our Lady’s Hospital was meant to have been closed down years ago, but despite its crumbling façade and obsolete infrastructure, it has been kept open in order to handle patients who need rest and observation rather than actual treatment. Thus freeing up much needed beds at the more modern hospital nearby.

The medical condition of the investigators has a marked effect upon the scenario and just what they can get up to. For much of the scenario, they will be restricted to their beds by the nurses, as they are expected to rest after all. This does not mean that the investigators cannot conduct any actual investigation, but rather that they will have to have to work hard to get around the nurses. When they do though, their efforts will be hampered by the state of their health. In game terms, an investigator literally must expend points from his Health Ability in order to conduct certain actions, points that can only be restored through bed rest. In effect in Invasive Procedures, each investigator’s Health Ability has a reduced and more temporary feel to it, and this, combined with the reduced number of points assigned to all of the investigators’ Abilities, places an emphasis on the resource aspect of playing a Gumshoe game.

This might be frustrating for some players, as might the fact that escaping Our Lady’s Hospital is intentionally difficult. Not just due to their investigators’ weakened health, but also later in the scenario as the forces they face isolate the facility. Nevertheless, this is intentional; Invasive Procedures is all about isolation and claustrophobia, as much as it is about medical malpractice and the classic duality of the medical practitioner. Despite the constraints placed on the investigators by their status and their situation, they do have room to manoeuvre and explore their environment, the nature of which changes between night and day. These elements are actually tools to help the GM run what is not necessarily an easy scenario to run if he is to both maintain its atmosphere and handle the flow of clues.

The difficulty that a GM might have in running Invasive Procedures is not helped by the pre-generated investigators, which feel underwritten; the lack of a timeline that could help him handle its flow of effects; and a simple map that could help him visualise Our Lady’s Hospital quickly and easily – both for himself and for his players. That aside, the scenario is nicely produced, and the writing excellent. Pasqual Quidalt’s illustrations are all suitably dark and makes for a moody change over the art usually seen in Pelgrane Press’ titles.

Lastly, there is the matter of Invasive Procedures and Trail of Cthulhu. The scenario is clearly written for Fear Itself, which shows in its choice of true foe and its feel as more a traditional horror scenario than a Lovecraftian investigative horror one. Mechanically, there is little that a Keeper needs to do in order to adapt Invasive Procedures from Fear Itself to Trail of Cthulhu. Thematically, he needs to work elements of the Mythos threat into the body of the scenario, the suggested threats being the Mi-go or Elder Things, the former being more appropriate and easier to work in than the latter. This, like the running of the actual scenario, is best done by an experienced GM or Keeper.

As a one-shot horror adventure, Invasive Procedures is a close, claustrophobic, and challenging affair. The challenge rises exponentially for the GM or Keeper if he wants to run this scenario as part of a campaign, though it would make for an atmospheric and scary start for a campaign.

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