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Sunday, 2 August 2020

Mythos & Monogamy

The format of One-on-one roleplaying—one Investigator and one Keeper—is not new to Lovecraftian investigative horror. It goes all the way back to the scenario, ‘Paper Chase’, originally published in the Cthulhu Companion from 1983 and most recently included in the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set, and more recently explored in Cthulhu Confidential, published by Pelgrane Press for clue-orientated roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror, Trail of Cthulhu. Chaosium, Inc. returns to the format for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, with Does Love Forgive? One-to-One Scenarios for Call of Cthulhu, its special release for the ‘Virtual’ Gen Con of 2020. Originally published for the Polish version of Call of Cthulhu by Black Monk Games as Miłość ci wszystko wybaczy? for Valentine’s Day 2020, the two scenarios in Does Love Forgive? are set in the USA, one in 1929 and one in 1932, one in Chicago and one in New York, and both can be played through in a single session or so. Does Love Forgive? is also notable for its all-women writing team and for being one of the few non-English language titles for Call of Cthulhu to be translated and developed for the English market.

From the outset, Does Love Forgive? addresses two difficulty factors related to the format and the subject matter. The first is the difficulty of playing the two scenarios and here it introduces a pair of indicators to show the Difficulty Level and the estimated number of gaming sessions necessary to complete the two scenarios in the anthology. These range from ‘Very Easy’ to ‘Very Hard’ for the Difficulty Level and one, two, three, or four sessions for the play length. The first scenario, ‘Love You to Death’, has a Difficulty Level of ‘Very Easy’ and a play length of one session, whilst the second, ‘Mask of Desire’, has a Difficulty Level of ‘Easy’ and a play length of one session. Both are clearly marked at the beginning of each scenario. Overall, this is a useful addition to Call of Cthulhu, and hopefully it will be used in more scenarios. Both scenarios though, can be played using the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set or the full Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition rules.

The difficulty is with the subject at the heart of Does Love Forgive?—and that is love. Being focused on the one player and the one Keeper, the format of one-on-one roleplaying is potentially more intense and potentially more intimate, which when combined with as emotional a subject matter as ‘love’, means that the some of the situations in the two scenarios have the capacity to make player, Keeper, or both uncomfortable when roleplaying their romantic or highly emotionally-charged scenes. The authors suggest both player and Keeper discuss any potentially problematic plot elements that they might be uncomfortable with and set the parameters for themselves, and that certainly the Keeper should take care in handling the emotional scenes throughout both scenarios. Overall this is good advice and definitely worth reading as part of preparing both. Other advice for the Keeper covers the use of NPCs to provide support to the protagonist and the use of Luck to modify most rolls during play.

The first scenario is ‘Love You to Death’. This takes place in Chicago on Friday, February 15th, 1929—the day after the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The Investigator is a Private Eye—either one of the player’s own creation or taken from the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set—who grew up in an orphanage where he was very good friends with two girls, Hattie and Ellen. It has been years since he has seen either, one being now married and the other having been adopted years before. Then on the morning following the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Hattie knocks on his office door. Her faithful dog has been picked up by the police and is due to be put down. Fortunately, the Investigator has a friend at the police station and not only will he be able to learn how the dog came to be picked up, but also more about the terrible events of the day before. However, by the time the Investigator returns the dog to Hattie, she has disappeared… Could this be related to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?

‘Love You to Death’ is of course a love triangle, but one coloured by both other emotions and the Mythos. Being the simpler of the two scenarios, ‘Love You to Death’ should be a relatively easy mystery to solve, and in fact, experienced players of Call of Cthulhu may find it a little too easy. This is unlikely though if the player is new to Call of Cthulhu or he has played through the scenarios in Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. At times it does feel as the player and his Investigator is being dragged around—in some cases literally—a little. There are suggestions if the Keeper wants to add a complication or two and these are probably best used if the player has plenty of experience with Call of Cthulhu. This is a nice little investigation, adroitly framed around the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but without miring it unnecessarily in the Mythos.

‘Mask of Desire’ shifts to New York and 1932. This is a much less tightly plotted scenario, requiring a slightly more complex set-up. The Investigator lives with two close friends, Anna, a wouldbe singer, and Lucas, a reluctant lawyer. The player is free to decide the nature of the relationship between his Investigator and Anna and Lucas and also what his actual Occupation is, both of which needs to be done before play begins as it will very much influence the interaction between the Investigator and his housemates throughout the scenario. The three have been invited to a party hosted by Madame de Tisson at her swanky apartment on the Upper West Side. The wealthy, and notoriously louche socialite is known for her libertine attitudes and her interest in objects d’art, so it seems odd that Lucas is seen talking to her discreetly, especially Anna is by her audition the following for Nancy Turner, the famous jazz orchestra conductor. 

The scenario very much revolves around a nasty MacGuffin which promises a lot, but at a price—and who has it and what they are doing with it. Like any good MacGuffin it quickly falls into the trio of friends’ hands and as the friends learn more about it and what it can do, it is likely to drive a wedge between them. They are not the only ones with an interest in the object—an interest which could turn deadly. The scenario is again quite linear, but being more complex, there are more options to take into consideration, there being quite a lot of ‘If this happens, then this happens’, ‘If the Investigator does this, then this happens’, and so on. In many ways, not that different from any scenario for Call of Cthulhu, but it is more obvious in its format. ‘Mask of Desire’ is, though, far more of a character piece than many Call of Cthulhu scenarios, focusing on the friendships which the player will have helped build during the set-up phase prior to play. That does bring the MacGuffin’s malign influence and what it drives men to do much closer to home than in many Call of Cthulhu scenarios and mean its impact will be all the stronger and more emotional.

Physically, Does Love Forgive? is well presented and well-written. It is lightly illustrated, but the artwork is decent. If the anthology is missing anything, then perhaps a few more NPC portraits would not have gone amiss, though the Keeper can remedy that with some images taken from the Internet, and perhaps for ease of play, a ready-made Investigator, at least for ‘Love You to Death’.

The presence of the Mythos in Does Love Forgive? is quite mild by comparison, but it need not be overly Eldritch given that the two scenarios in the anthology are for a single player and his Investigator. Which makes the anthology more than suitable for play following the Cthulhu Starter Set, not necessarily using the same Investigator, of course. Of the two scenarios, ‘Mask of Desire’ is the more sophisticated and will thus be appreciated by a wider audience—‘Love You to Death’ possibly being a bit too straightforward for experienced players. Then there is the question of the title’s anthology, to which the answer is with some Luck and good roleplaying upon the part of the player, then certainly, otherwise the last thing the Mythos will do is forgive. Overall, as the first release in English for Black Monk Games, Does Love Forgive? One-to-One Scenarios for Call of Cthulhu, is a very welcome addition to the way in which Call of Cthulhu can be played and hopefully the format will be supported with further scenarios, if not a campaign!

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