Review of Many Fires

Review Summary
Affiliated Capsule Review
Written Review

December 23, 2011

by: kafka

Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)

Another fine offering from Pelgrane chalked filled with excellent art and is an exceptionally well written adventure to boot. Taking place in the Classic Cthulhu period (late 1920s & early 1930s) in exotic and dark Mexico. Step by step Jason Morningstar pulls the reader (and by extension gaming group) into a tale of terror.

kafka has written 153 reviews, with average style of 4.59 and average substance of 4.58 The reviewer's previous review was of Traveller Compendium 2.

This review has been read 2167 times.

Product Summary
Name: Many Fires
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
Line: Trail of Cthulhu, Call of Cthulhu
Author: Jason Morningstar
Category: RPG

Cost: $6.95
Pages: 44
Year: 2011


Review of Many Fires

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Something about Mexico in the 1920s/1930s is really exciting for me. As it seems like a country renewed by Revolution, casting off the old ways which includes lots of room to thrown in the Cthulhu Mythos as the light of science and rationality must succumb in the face of cosmic horror. Or it could be the Mythos and Mesoamerican myths oddly intersect in funny ways (disclaimer: I do not know if End Times is going to happen in 2012). And, this Pulp One Shot adventure delivers honest to Cthulhu goodness in this time period. Investigators are called in by a fairly influential patron do deal with some local problems and through the series of twists and turns, they have a chance to heroic actions and possibly die and/or go insane. What is nice is that the players do actually have a fighting chance.

Twists in the plot and setting the players (assuming that they use the pregens) up as antagonists makes for more enjoyable play and really develops and pushes the GUMSHOE system. Nicely, Pelgrane also provides alternative hooks should players want to play their own characters. So, traditional players may find this railroadish but one of the deficiencies of old style Call of Cthulhu games has been motivation. I think that Pelgrane is right to emphasize that it is about getting stuff done. But, there is enough of a sandbox for players to wander around gathering the clues to complete investigation with lots of leads, clues and red herrings. Lots of interesting NPCs, for players to interact with and scores that could be added in at Keeper’s fiat and minimal work, Jason has given us enough background to really get the sense of the place.

As noted above, it is set in Mexico in a very much frontier type setting. Here Jason has really crafted a nice story that places characters in isolation – very important in any horror story – yet at the same time, as they go into the jungle that is where things are expected to bat crazy and in the great Cthulhu tradition – there is that possibility. However, Jason crafts the adventure in such a way that the big reveals result in surprise and delight thus the feeling is mainly cerebral. All seasoned Cthulhu enthusiasts know that this is the essence of what makes Cthulhu so much fun this slow drip of horror. Quite of bit of preparation is required to run this adventure but Jason has provided lots of helpful props (it would seem that Cthulhu excels at creating excellent props and Pelgrane Press in this and other offerings have elevated it to an art form). Excellent art (including character portraits (little kafka happy dance) – thank you) is littered through by Jιrτme Huguenin that inspires and also serves a backdrop. Sadly, none of these pieces had the creepy factor of his earlier work nevertheless were great at creating the right mood – which is Pulp. Purists or traditional Call of Cthulhu players must be prepared for this being pulp otherwise some of the enjoyment will be lost.

The drawback of the adventure is also its greatest strength – it is relatively short. It truly is a One-Two Shot, it is a strength because Cthulhu adventures in my experience spend a lot of time wandering around and even the GUMSHOE rule set is meant to expedite this process there still existed some of this wandering off the map when danger was presented or where the map was labelled (Here Be Dragons) – players astutely stayed away. The genius of this adventure is that it keeps players in a large enough canvas but solidly on track for the adventure to unfold as it should. However, it makes want more and when the adventure ends, it is somewhat disappointing that it is over. So, hopefully, this will be indeed part of a larger canvas.

Another strong suit in the adventure is the reinterpretation of the Mythos that Trail of Cthulhu has pioneered – where the big bad is hinted at but not revealed, as the Mythos have a multitude of facets and known by a thousand names – previously only Nyarlathotep had this distinction. But, even if it needs to hammered in again, there is no way that Cthulhu can Hit Points, the legacy game of our hobby keeps on making us to think this way – however, Pelgrane smashes those assumptions and prejudices in a gentle and forceful way giving rise to the feeling of true dread and horror. Kudos to Pelgrane and Jason for a truly suspense-filled adventure without relying upon cheap tricks.

So, other than the relative shortness of the experience – what are the drawbacks? Few and far between. Maybe save that it is hard to get this adventure on the first read – but anyone doing investigative horror adventures would probably usher the same criticism of any work. For Pelgrane does offer significant supporting aid for the Keeper. So the fact that you cannot run this straight from the box is not a valid criticism but it is a warning for new Keepers that you might have to read and re-read several sections and the whole adventure. Things that were missing are period piece references. More than one occasion, I wished that I had some Spanish phrases that would have been added in for more colour. Or several of the NPCs only speaks German but no character has skills in German – true characters can expend a language point to get to be understood. But, it just seems odd. However, on the other hand, it does add to the isolation when nobody speaks any language that you are familiar it could equally be a plot point. So while the adventure is complex, it is not overly so...

This adventure comes highly recommended despite some reservations noted above. It really does a first-class job at exploiting the GUMSHOE system to its full potential and shows how distant that Call of Cthulhu BRP has become. But, I do acknowledge that the GUMSHOE heresy is a matter of choice and still there might be holdouts. on the other hand, if you do embrace there heresy, you will find the experience of this adventure incredibly satisfying.

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