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

Friday 4 February 2022

Murder or Mythos?

A year ago, in the small town of Milo, Maine, thirty-year-old Alicia Thorne left Redd’s Bar and Grille after a few quiet drinks with casual friends. She never got home. The local police department investigated, but neither found her body or signs of a struggle. The number one suspect was, and remains today, her partner, Ben Facet. Public opinion then—and now—was that he kidnapped and murdered her. After all, he is known to be a recluse who collects strange books and manuscripts, who dresses in strange costumes, and practices all manner of sorcery and witchcraft. Who knows what goes on in the basement of the house that he shared with the missing woman? This is the background against which the Player Characters return to the town of Milo to celebrate their ten-year high school reunion. Everyone has an opinion upon what happened to Alicia, especially many of the women who attended high school with her and so will be at the reunion. The question is, what happened to Alicia, and did her partner, Ben, have anything to do with it?

This is the set-up for Whatever Happened to AliciaThorne?, a short scenario set in the modern day just north of Lovecraft Country for Callof Cthulhu, Seven Edition. Published by Stygian Fox, it can be played as a one-shot or as a campaign starter, and although there is advice on running the scenario as part of a campaign with more traditional Call of Cthulhu Investigators, Whatever Happened to Alicia Thorne? is not really suitable for use in such a campaign. Ideally, the players will create new characters, in general with relatively ordinary Occupations and develop some background as to who they knew at high school and what they have been doing for the decade since they graduated. This will come into play during the first part of the scenario. 

Whatever Happened to Alicia Thorne? is divided into two parts with an interlude in between. The first sees the Player Characters attend the reunion, an enthusiastic, if slightly down-at-heel affair. There is lots of scope here for interaction and roleplaying here—all to the music of the Player Characters’ youth, played very loud—with their former classmates, all of whom have their own backstories and post-school histories for the Player Characters to catch up with, as well as opinions of what happened to their former classmate, Alicia. With drinks flowing, the conversation is easy and the other guests share their histories and opinions freely, without the need for the players and their characters to roll Charm or Persuade skill checks. As the event winds down, the Player Characters have a chance to reflect and consider what they have learned over the course of the evening over a nightcap. This forms the scenario’s interlude between the two parts of the scenario.

The Player Characters become Investigators in the second half when they begin making enquiries into the disappearance of Alicia Thorne, themselves. Milo is a small town and 
Whatever Happened to Alicia Thorne? is a small scenario, so there are only a few places for the Investigators to look for clues—her family, her workplace, her last known sighting, and of course, her home. This also means investigating her partner, Ben. Whatever the police might say, both clues and local opinion point towards his involvement in his partner’s disappearance. 

When the Investigators do discover what has happened to Alicia, it is doubly shocking. Being a Call of Cthulhu scenario, Whatever Happened to Alicia Thorne? does involve the Mythos and being set in New England may suggest possibilities to veteran players of the roleplaying game and devotees of Mythos fiction. However, the other reason for its shock value is that the scenario does involve suicide. The scenario does carry a content warning, so a Keeper should be aware of this beforehand, and she should be aware of whether this would be a difficult issue for her players. An alternative option is included if neither the Keeper nor her players want to include this aspect in the scenario. 

Physically, Whatever Happened to Alicia Thorne? is a short—just eighteen pages long—scenario. The thirteenth entry in Stygian Fox’s series of Patreon releases, it is well presented and well written. In fact, it is a huge improvement upon other entries in the series in terms of its presentation, and hopefully future releases will maintain this standard. 

Whatever Happened to Alicia Thorne? is a surprisingly flexible scenario. It could easily be adapted to the Jazz Age of classic Call of Cthulhu or even the Purple Age of Cthulhu by Gaslight, but as written it would be easier to run at any time after World War II. Similarly, it is easy to shift in terms of location, with  somewhere near the coast being ideal. Designed to be played by between two and six Investigators, it can also be used as a campaign starter, a one-shot, a one-on-one scenario for a Keeper and single Investigator, and even as a convention scenario given its length. That said, if running it as a convention scenario, the Keeper will need to be up front about its themes. Whatever Happened to Alicia Thorne? would also work as a first scenario to introduce players to the Mythos and Call of Cthulhu, Seven Edition, again taking its mature aspects into account. 

As written there are no issues or problems with Whatever Happened to Alicia Thorne? It could though, have supported its flexibility with advice and suggestions for the Keeper. Whether that is moving it to a different time frame, running it for one player, or as a convention scenario. Some hooks to get each of the players and their characters involved would also have been useful too, not necessarily to Milo where their characters grew up, but to Alicia and her partner, Ben. This would not necessarily replace whatever details and background the players are encouraged to create and roleplay, but at least help if a player is short on ideas or the Keeper is preparing some pre-generated Player Characters. 

Whatever Happened to Alicia Thorne? is a solid, straightforward investigative one-shot with plenty of scope for roleplaying and interaction. Plotted more like a movie mystery with a horrifying revelation and shock ending, Whatever Happened to Alicia Thorne? is an excellent scenario to run for those new to the Mythos and Call of Cthulhu. Veteran players may well be just a little too jaded.


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