Cubicle 7 has another winning Cthulhu supplement here. If the previous supplement (Cthulhu Britannica: Avalon - The Somerset Source book
) had numerous gag elements in it, this dead serious, as it takes a hard look at Mythos activity at the top of British Iles. Like its predecessor volume, it is gorgeously illustrated and well edited. It is rules light, information heavy (although, never feeling that it is burden) giving the right amount of information (sometimes there is a desire one is wanting more but that is the job of the Keeper to fill in).
It is a source book of Scotland of the 1920s, although, it could be updated to any time period in the future (OK, not the Future, Future) or with some effort taken back to an earlier period. But, naturally it works best in the 1920s when the world still thought electric light was a pretty neat idea, and travel was still done by steam locomotive…and a car breaking down in the middle of nowhere was literally nowhere. So the 1920s provide the right level of gloom and doom for the adventures which cannot easily be transposed into modern times but could be taken back to Gaslight times just it would require a darker view than what was presented in the source material.
We start with an examination of a time line for Scotland and its predecessor states. This takes us from mythical times up to the 1920s. The first section is meant to be historical and commonly known facts. Then a briefer section that follows gives the history of the Mythos in Scotland, there is overlap between the two but fortunately no redundancy. All that one can say is that Scotland is filled with Mythos creatures which I am not sure is a good thing or not. I tend to downplay the Mythos in my games where the effects of the Mythos can be seen much like the wind or footprints in the snow – man, beast or other will only be determined in time. For me, investigation is the thing, not the monsters therefore; I would want more histories of demented sorcerers, stories behind those stone circles and legends about children who disappear in nasty holes in the ground.
The source material covers the lowlands, highlands and the islands in more detail than I have ever seen in any source book thus raising the bar for subsequent source books. For not only do we get the lay of the land with maps, we get history, comprehensive overview of the cities, geological information, local flora & fauna, people & culture and mythos-touched local myths. Naturally, it does touch on Loch Ness but largely leaves to the Keeper to decide the nature of the beastie but also provides the scientific explanation for the phenomena. The latter was the best part, as all too often, Call of Cthulhu adventures run into crazed mutterings and part of the fun is when the scientific establishment (bolos) come in their lab coats and measuring devices disprove the ramblings only to fall prey to the thing that lurks in the shadows or comes out at night. We get a very meaty description of Scotland punctuated with a fake travelogue. My only criticism of this section was there was not more discrete handling of the Mythos – for not all monsters in Call of Cthulhu need to be tainted with the Mythos and tying everything back to them is just too pseudo-science and sometimes myths and legends are best when they have suggestions of Mythos activity without spelling it out. However, thankfully, even the insertion of the Mythos into the history of Scotland is subtle and restrained compared to the Avalon source book that put the Mythos – front and centre of a vast conspiracy. I am not certain how related the Cthulhu Britannica line is meant to be related to one another. If it is merely thematic, ideas of the Mythos around Britain, cool but if it is meant to fit together as jigsaw puzzle – it will be hard, as this is clearly the superior work.
What the above section lacked was a treatment of castles and manor houses along with some of their more notable inhabitants. I also found the treatment of the islands to be rather sparse. Yes, these are just outcroppings in the North Sea but the description was more akin to a Fodor’s or Lonely Planet description than a feeling that one would get from watching the original Wicker Man. Again, this could a good thing – too many nods to popular culture are bound to get a player wind of what the Referee might be planning. However, I must say the Islands do provide an excellent backdrop that seems woefully underdeveloped.
The adventures are a real mixed bag, as some are excellent really capture the attention and use the source material to the fullest but others are quite generic and could be used in any context. Thus for the most part the adventures are part of the weakest parts of this source book, in contrast with the Avalon book. I also hope that Cubicle 7 will make the handouts available as a free downloadable PDF, so that it will save the trouble of printing & cut+paste or photocopying this fine book.
The first of the six scenarios in Shadows Over Scotland takes the experienced investigators (why start off with an adventure for seasoned players is beyond me) to Glasgow for “Death and Horror Incorporated.” Scotland’s second city is overwhelmed by a previously mysterious plague and a rash of deaths terminating in the unearthing of a ship from Ireland with her hold full of corpses instead of refugees. Designed for experienced investigators, this requires plenty of detective work, some ferreting around beneath the city, and probably the creation of some more newspaper hand-outs by the Keeper at the scenario’s start. A good adventure and it does use the source material appropriately in that it was consistent with the material previous described.
What follows next is “The Hand of Abyzou,” which changes locations to Edinburgh and the vaults below the city with the investigators being asked to determine how a friend came to be near comatose in an asylum. The friend happens to be an expert on cults, so what was it that left him in this state? Like “Death and Horror Incorporated” before it, “The Hand of Abyzou” takes the investigators underground, though, much, much deeper this time. A good adventure and very sandbox but parts of it are downright confusing and would need a multiple reading and are again designed for seasoned investigators.
The introverted nature of village inhabitants is brought to the fore in “Uisge Beatha” or "The Water of Life.” They are as unwelcoming to the investigators as they are to the new Laird, the reason being relatively easy to uncover, but probably beyond the scope of the player characters to wholly deal with. I had a lot of trouble with this adventure, first, because it assumes a lot of overland travel where no maps or player’s aids seemed to be provided. Second, it had a rather jokey mad scientist vibe to it (so if you like Blood Brothers – you probably will not have trouble with this point) and lastly it was so generic that it did not contribute anything to my understanding of Scotland or the source material.
The death of a famed Norwegian deep sea explorer results in the investigators to Inverness to discern the facts that will convey them down the Great Glen and then eventually to Loch Ness (providing at least one explanation for the Monster). “Heed the Kraken’s Call” has a slightly pulpy feel, yet is true enough to actual cosmic horror that players are bound to enjoy it. It offers great satisfaction with an action-packed finale that will need careful handling given the number of participants beyond the investigators. So players are forewarned that they have to build alliances and a solid team before tackling the GOO here.
Privately-owned the Western Isle of Rum by Sir George Bullough, has a progressively more horrible repute with its citizens either having disappeared or left all too suddenly. A small number of now are ready to step ashore for even the owner is paying high wages (how un-Scottish of him) as part of his endeavour to turn the island into a sanctuary for the rich and famous. However, members of Sir Bullough’s new staff have begun disappearing and he needs to identify why. There is great onus upon the Keeper to put together a sense of isolation and possible paranoia as the investigators unearth the reason. Appropriate for investigators of any experience, this is relatively uncomplicated situation that should last a single session or two. This is what makes this another solid adventure.
“Star Seed,” the very last scenario and my personal favorite, takes the investigators to the archaeological excavation of Skara Brae on Orkney, where an associate from Miskatonic University has discovered a bizarre and weird artifact. The players are required to ascertain the nature of the threat it represents and find a way to stop it before it is after the potential cataclysmic event. This is the shortest of the six scenarios and perhaps the for the most part mechanical. It is also least interesting, and perhaps the best candidate for being replaced with more background material on Scotland and thus the biggest disappointment. However, one redeeming point is that I found it was the easiest to follow and implement straight away.
The Keeper will need to be imaginative if (s)he desires to engage the investigators in any of these six scenarios. The issue is not with the scenarios themselves, but with the given means of involving the investigators – too often they are introduced to the problem via a letter from a friend or someone wanting their help having heard from “somewhere” that they are capable of dealing with strange matters. While the inclusion of Plot Maps that list each scenario’s locations, personas, relationships, motivations, and clues is more than welcome, each would be easier to run if the attribute, skill, and Sanity checks given in each scenario was clearly marked for the Keeper to pick out of the page.
While the information is strictly Call of Cthulhu, it could be adapted to The Laundry, albeit, The Laundry of a different era (say the 1950s or early 1960s) with minimal difficulty save in generating the raison d’être why players might find themselves facing down the cosmic horror. It also would not have any of the bureaucratic bumbling that mars many of The Laundry RPG adventures. If played as a Laundry RPG game, players would stand a greater likelihood of survival but isn’t part of the fun of Cthulhu – dying and going insane a myriad of different ways…please see Death Scenes - Aftermaths of Cthulhoid Kill (http://www.yog-sothoth.com/local_links.php?catid=25)./