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

Monday 28 December 2020

Ticket to Ride?

When it comes to horror, you can have two things which are haunted—houses and lighthouses, obviously, but in the modern age, there is the third. This is the railway train, and when it comes to haunted trains—or trains best by horror in Call of Cthulhu, it seems like there is only one train which matters, and that is the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, as in Horror on the Orient Express. Yet there is another train which deserves to be haunted—in fact, it deserves to be haunted or beset by horror infinitely more than the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. This is the London Necropolis Railway, which between 1854 and 1941, ran from Waterloo in the heart of London to the Brookwood Cemetery in Brookwood, Surrey, ferrying the capital’s dead for burial. Given the London Necropolis Railway’s obvious connection to the dead and to cemeteries, it seems surprising that in the thirty-five years since the publication of Cthulhu by Gaslight, there has been no scenario for the roleplaying game set aboard the London Necropolis Railway.

Nightmare on the Necropolis Express is a scenario for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition published by Stygian Fox Publishing. It is set during the last years of the nineteenth century, so is suitable for use in the Cthulhu by Gaslight setting, or the publisher’s own Hudson & Brand, Inquiry Agents of the Obscure campaign setting. It is short, playable in a single session—two at most, and could be played with a single Investigator and the Keeper, though it would probably work better with a few more. The scenario does not require any of the Investigators to possess a particular Occupation to complete, though perhaps a Priest might be of use.

Nightmare on the Necropolis Express begins with the Investigators being hired by a number of workers on the London Necropolis Railway to investigate a number of unholy apparitions and unsettling occurrences aboard night runnings of the train. The London Necropolis Railway does not normally run at night, but is currently ferrying bodies exhumed from the West Norwood Cemetery in Lambeth in south London to the more capacious Brookwood Cemetery. That is when the incidents began and the train crew, led by the lugubrious Tommy Thompson are worried about them continuing and spooking everyone.

The investigation process in Nightmare on the Necropolis Express is simple, a mere matter of finding out more about the London Necropolis Railway and potentially visiting the West Norwood Cemetery. Armed with a few clues then, the Investigators are expected to join Tommy Thompson and friends aboard the late running of the London Necropolis Railway. Very little happens until the return when quite literally an Abomination appears at the rear of the train—in one of the hearse carriages—and begins to rampage back up the train, moving towards the locomotive in what is a timed event. Can the Investigators stop it and can they discover what is really going on?

Nightmare on the Necropolis Express is a short scenario, ultimately built around an ‘unstoppable’ monster and involving quite slight investigation. The four handouts, detailing various newspaper reports about the London Necropolis Railway and the London Burial Crisis are interesting, but ultimately have little impact upon the events of the scenario. In fact, there is really only the one clue which is pertinent, but it does not really matter if the Investigators discover it or not, because the clue does not really help them or provide a means to deal with the final confrontation. Either way, the events of the scenario will play out and the Investigators will still face the problem on the train.

However, Nightmare on the Necropolis Express does present the Keeper with some fun NPCs to portray—including samples of dialogue which will help her portray them immensely. The floor plans of the London Necropolis Railway are decent and the unique nature of the setting very much stands out.

Physically, Nightmare on the Necropolis Express is a neat, nice little digest-size hardback done in full colour. The illustrations are decent and the inclusion of photographs of Brookwood Cemetery a nice touch. The handouts are disappointingly plain.

Ultimately, the shortness of the scenario and the relative lack of meaningful investigation makes it debatable as to whether or not Nightmare on the Necropolis Express was quite worth publishing as a standalone product. Further, the fact that the scenario and its primary solution comes down to a single skill check—although one that all of the Investigators can make—means that in terms of the story, Nightmare on the Necropolis Express does feel as if the Investigators are along for the ride.

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