Horror on the Orient Express
Horror on the Orient Express is my personal favourite Cthulthu campaign, but it may not be to everybody's taste. In it, the investigators seek (on the instructions of an old and near-dead friend) the pieces of an ancient occult artifact, the Sedefkar Simulacrum, which is also being sought by a Mythos-worshipping cult, the Brothers of the Skin. These pieces happen to lie upon the route taken by the Orient Express across Europe, and many incidents happen on the train itself. Consequently, the adventure is in overall structure, very linear, consisting effectively of a series of separate episodes which must be played in a certain order. There is plenty of scope for individual initiative within each episode, but essentially the whole things is scripted and designed to work towards a series of horror set-pieces.
But - well, the set-pieces are quite brilliant. Without giving too much away, particular standouts include a terrifying surrealist dream-episode in Zagreb, a vicious encounter with black chickens, the clash of numerous occult forces in Trieste, and two tense and tough fights against powerful foes on the train itself. The foreign natures of the adventures gives them a particular charm, especially since relatively few Mythos stories or adventures have been set in Europe, and the individual qualities of each country are well-conveyed. The quality of the buildup, too, is great; the episodes build from research and minor Mythos influence in Paris through to a guns-a-blazing, spells-a-slinging battle in Constantinople. The difficulty of obtaining the pieces goes from simply pulling an arm out of black-thorned bushes to directly confronting lloiger and ancient gods.
Three influences haunt the entire campaign, slowly building to a deadly climax; the Brothers of the Skin, the Simulacrum itself (which impedes its carriers, and has a malign and soul-destroying influence on its resting places), and a particularly powerful and vicious supernatural entity, the nature of which I shall not reveal, which aids the party for its own purposes, and has a nasty habit of leaving ripped up bodies about the place. Each gradually becomes apparent, and the smallest incidents can induce utter terror in the players. The writing, too, has a peculiarly spooky charm. Little lines capture a feeling of fear; "In the church, Father Filopovic is staring at the dessicated corpse of his wife." "Wildly, grimly, in utter silence, the way a spider strikes at a beetle, his arm shot up and squeezed Guimart's hand, nearly severing the wrist, then fell back." "Small creatures best not thought upon wriggle into the wound, away from the light."
The presentation of the books is rather wonderful, too. Each comes in a separate booklet, marked with the Simplon-Orient symbol and neatly - yet somehow disturbingly - laid out. Best of all, it comes with enough goodies to make a Keeper happy as a sandboy. Passports, maps, layouts of the carriages, a cardboard model of the Simulacrum, colour advertisements for the Express itself - gorgeous stuff. It's these kind of things that will make this campaign stick in the minds of the players, plus the beautifully terrifying nature of the adventures themselves. Snap this up if you can find it; it's a delight to read, let alone play.Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)