The Lightless Beacon: When the Lights Went Out is the scenario for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, either using the core rules or the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set, for #WeAreAllUs. It is is a demonstration scenario, a one-shot, designed to be played by four players in an hour from start to finish, and to that end comes with four pre-generated investigators. There is scope for flexibility though, as it can be played through with as few as two players, but with the addition of some extra investigators, could be played with more. It is perhaps a little awkward to fit into an ongoing campaign because of its set-up—in being both very specific and a cliché in terms of Call of Cthulhu—but The Lightless Beacon could serve as an introductory scenario to a Call of Cthulhu campaign. Especially if that campaign is set in Lovecraft Country.
The Lightless Beacon opens with a disaster. The investigators are aboard the SS Essex County bound for Rockpoint, Massachusetts, when the light from the Beacon Island lighthouse went out. Without the guidance of the warning lights, the mixed cargo and passenger vessel founders and the crew quickly puts the passengers into a rowing boat and tells them to make for Beacon Island—the nearest and safest land. As the wind whipped and sea sodden investigators make their way ashore their first thoughts are likely to be survival rather than wondering why the light was out. On dry land though, the discovery of strange footprints in the mud and then signs of a struggle in the lighthouse cottage suggest that cause might have been anything other than mundane. All too quickly, the investigators make grisly discoveries, some too close to home before…
To support the scenario, The Lightless Beacon comes with six excellent handouts, including maps and clues. Then there are the four pre-generated investigators, which include an antiques dealer, a Bureau Agent, an Artist, and a Marine Biologist. All four are ready to play, complete with notes on the significant people, meaningful places, traits, and so on, as well as background and motivation to be aboard the SS Essex County. The only thing left blank on the investigator sheets are their names and sexes, each player being left to decide on these himself. (It is notable and welcome that the scenario’s excellent artwork suggests a diversity of genders and backgrounds.) Once done, the scenario can begin...
The situation in The Lightless Beacon is one that will be familiar to veteran Keepers and players of Call of Cthulhu, involving as it does shipwrecks—see On the Trail of the Loathsome Slime and ‘Naufractus’, the prequel to The Legacy of Arrius Lurco; lighthouses—‘The Lonely Point Lighthouse’ from Island of Ignorance – The Third Cthulhu Companion and ‘The Occulted Light’ from Before the Fall; and the denizens of certain town called Innsmouth. For such jaded players though, The Lightless Beacon offers pacy play, some solid roleplaying hooks, an unexpected twist upon “It’s behind you”, and a punchy scenario that should provide an hour’s worth of play.
Of course, The Lightless Beacon is not written with the veteran player or Keeper in mind. They can still play it, but really, it is designed to be run by the novice Keeper and played by novice players. To that end, the scenario includes quite a bit of advice for the beginning Keeper. This covers the scenario structure, the nature of the four pre-generated investigators—including the insanities they might suffer should (and ideally they should) be driven mad, how the players should spend their investigators’ Luck, timing, maintaining tension, and more. The inclusion of the insanities that might be suffered is a nice touch, something that might be useful for similar scenarios with pre-generated investigators. This is solid advice that should help the novice Keeper run her first scenario (or serve as a useful refresher course for the veteran Keeper).
The timing of the scenario means that it needs to be run at some pace. Roughly two thirds of its hour long playing time are dedicated to getting ashore and exploring it to find and examine clues and present its mystery. This gives time to showcase the primary form of play in Call of Cthulhu, the investigation of the mystery, before the physical showdown with the culprits in the last third.
Physically, The Lightless Beacon is full colour, forty-two page, 12.07 MB PDF. It is also richly appointed. The fully painted artwork, including the cover and the few internal illustrations are excellent, whilst the maps are clear and easy to use, and were a Keeper to need a lighthouse again, then the floor plans given here could easily be used again. The scenario is nicely edited and well written throughout.
The relative ease of the set-up to The Lightless Beacon makes it a good choice for a gaming group to have and pull out when another game is needed in an emergency, whether because the group is short of players or time. Veteran Keepers of Call of Cthulhu will be able to run this with ease, but the advice for the novice Keeper is really very helpful, making it easy for her to set up and then run the scenario. Overall, The Lightless Beacon: When the Lights Went Out is an excellent demonstration scenario. It is particularly direct in its pacing and its horror, but for an hour long horror scenario that is exactly what you need.