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

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Smoke & Mirrors

Designed to be used with the GORE™ Open Game Content Rules published by Goblinoid Games—best known for the Old School Renaissance Retroclone, Labyrinth LordThe Fenworthy Inheritance proved to be an interesting scenario that was almost, but not quite a Call of Cthulhu scenario. Set in the 1920s, The Fenworthy Inheritance is a one-shot scenario set in England’s West Country in which a walking holiday goes awry when the characters encounter death on the road, rural superstition, village politics, and revenge from down the years… Compatible with Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition—and with some effort with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition—the scenario came with pre-generated characters and some excellent artwork. Although hampered by some poor production values, The Fenworthy Inheritance was a worthy first horror scenario from MontiDots Ltd. Now it has a sequel—The Smoking Mirror.

The Smoking Mirror is not a one-shot and is very much designed as a sequel to The Fenworthy Inheritance. This does not mean that it cannot be run as a one-shot or as part of an ongoing campaign, but it requires experienced investigators and the need to remove or change any reference to the seven pre-generated investigators that are included and which are part of the series. Besides these seven pre-generated investigators, it comes with ten or so decently done handouts, a sheaf of maps, and some excellent illustrations. It also includes a quick guide to the GORE™ Open Game Content Rules, to which are added rules for reading occult tomes, as well as casting various spells. 

The scenario takes place in the last week of August, 1922. It takes the investigators away from the countryside of The Fenworthy Inheritance to the cultural high spots and low spots of the Big Smoke. Just as the British Museum has taken delivery of a consignment of artefacts from a newly discovered city in Honduras, one of its employees from the Department of the Americas goes missing. Tristam Soames is a specialist in hieroglyphics and his father, Lord Soames, is worried enough to hire the investigators rather than the police. Their investigative efforts will hopefully reveal a plot involving Doctor John Dee, Aztec cosmology, the Bright Young Things, and potentially, the wish that the Spanish Armada really had invaded England in 1588. Not only is the plot timed, being a race against the clock, there is even potential for the scenario to get all ‘time-wimey’ and the investigators to get a second go at solving the mystery and thwarting the threat should they fail the first time around.

The Smoking Mirror is quite a tight little scenario, both geographically and chronologically. The latter because it takes place over three days and the former because it mainly takes place in Bloomsbury and Soho, though there is the possibility of a day trip out to Oxford. The tight time frame also means that the Game Master needs to keep track of where each of the NPCs are at any one time. Thankfully, the tight nature of the scenario also means that there are only a few NPCs that the Game Master must keep track of, but doing so is important because it determines what they know and consequently, what their actions will be.

In terms of its plot, The Smoking Mirror is nothing that we have not seen before, but many elements of said plot benefit from a fresh pair of eyes. That said, it has the potential to overburden the investigators with books, many of which take days to fully understand and there may not be enough time to really benefit from their contents. Also, the climax—the summoning of a very bloody god—could have been better handled and more clearly presented and the scenario leaves what happens if the investigators succeed up to the Game Master to determine. These will not necessarily be much of an issue for the experienced Game Master, but anyone less experienced may have a problem presenting or developing solutions to these problems. 

Physically, The Smoking Mirror is a mixed bag. Both the layout and the floor plans are clean if perfunctory, whilst the artwork is excellent. The latter should be no surprise given that the author is also a published artist. Unfortunately, The Smoking Mirror is in need of two things being fixed to make it a decent scenario. One is the better handling of the climax and its aftermath. The second is its editing. The Smoking Mirror suffers from a case of too many homonyms and too many awkward phrasings. Now none of this is sufficient to hinder someone from running The Smoking Mirror, but in several places a Game Master will need to pause to check and see if that is what the author really meant to say. 

There is much to like about The Smoking Mirror. It has some lovely illustrations, it has a solid, playable plot, and it makes good use of the locations it details. Certainly, the scenario handles its visits to the British Museum in a far better manner than the previous efforts of Lovecraftian investigative horror—Madness in London Town and Five Go Mad in Egypt—and the limited selection of locations and their descriptions make them easy to bring into a game. That said, the scenario could have benefited from another editorial, if not a developmental, pass—perhaps two. Then perhaps, the scenario will be as professional a release as the author and artist wants it to be. The Smoking Mirror is not unplayable and it is not unenjoyable, it is just not as polished as the author intended it to be.


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At the time of publication, MontiDots Ltd. did not have a website. It does however, have a presence on Facebook and the author can be contacted directly via email: info@montidots.co.uk. As of September, 2016, MontiDotsLtd. titles are available on RPGnow, including both The Fenworthy Inheritance and The Smoking Mirror.