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Trail of Cthulhu: Arkham Detective Tales

Arkham Detective Tales

This work provides a campaign outline in which the Investigators are associated in some way with law enforcement, and who find themselves investigating crimes that have Mythos undertones... but opens with a delightful description of the author's first ever Call of Cthulhu game, on the back of which he advises that if you have a pile of clues and an even bigger pile of bodies, it's best to work out what is going on before some hideous and unspeakable monster eats you!

The first section discusses the campaign framework itself. Law enforcement in New York state (and the FBI) have become aware that some of the cases that come up have more to them than mere criminal acts, and as the Investigators (be they sworn agents or private detectives... or whoever else you think might work with the police on such matters) have proven themselves quite good at this sort of thing, they get consulted on a regular basis. This of course has advantages and disadvantages: the Investigators have the full power of the law on their side, but they also have to answer for their actions. The campaign is intended to start out in and around New York and the surrounding states, but as the FBI realises how good the Investigators are at such difficult cases, they may find themselves being sent all over the country.

In style, the campaign owes much to the 'film noir' aspects of 1930s detective thrillers although underlying it there is much of the 'purist' approach (at least, in the four adventures provided - if you add your own material to expand the campaign it can, of course, adopt whatever style your group prefers). However, the main focus of each case is to unravel the mystery and put a stop to whatever is going on, so while there are plenty of moments of personal horror, there's the satisfaction of keeping the public safe, putting a more optomistic spin on things than a strictly 'purist' style might dictate. There are some outline ideas for suitable Investigators and a couple of recurrent NPCs (an FBI agent and the Commissioner of the NYPD).

So, on to the adventures themselves. The first is 'The Kidnapping' and starts off with the abduction of a child. As usual, there's a whole lot more going on than the kidnapping of a small child of wealthy parents (for ransom, presumably) and indeed there are TWO parallel spines of investigation: one concerns rescuing the child and bringing the kidnappers to book, the other involves discovering the Mythos-related background to the crime which involves competing sorcerers and underground tribes of strange creaturs. There's a wealth of background material, people to talk to and clues to discover (some, of course, are red herrings), and however the party wishes to investigate the matter you have the resources to give them the answers that they seek. This is a thumping good adventure on several levels... and there are two more to come!

The next adventure is 'Return to Red Hook' - referencing a Lovecraft story The Horror at Red Hook, the Red Hook in question being a run-down area of Brooklyn where a minor cult flourished in the 1920s. It all begins with a young lady who is looking for her brother, who has gone missing. He'd apparently been researching past events in Red Hook for a book. Again, nothing can be taken on face value. The Keeper will benefit from reading Lovecraft's tale as it does contribute to the backstory for this adventure, one strand of investigation includes looking at the history of the cult as well as the more obvious stuff like looking into who the missing fellow is and what he was up to... and did the cult really get wiped out in the 1920s? Plenty of excitement to be had here as well, what with strange monsters in the moonlight, extradimensional gates and more...

Then comes the adventure 'The Book' and focusses on Things Man Was Not Meant To Know... with a book that is decidely not recommended bedtime reading. It all begins with a couple of gruesome murders, the victims do not seem connected at all except by the horrible way in which they were done in. The reason behind the killings is genuinely surprising, moreover as well as a serial killer there are other forces at play. Just surviving this adventure is a minor triumph in itself, actually solving it and dealing with the problem puts the party into the most skillful category of investigators. Again, there are loads of people to talk to and locations to visit, with clues galore to be found. The investigation is quite wide-ranging, and of course any Investigator who finds that book might decide to read it...

The final adventure is 'The Wreck' which begins with a tramp steamer being found drifting outside New York harbour with a dead man at the helm. There is a flashback scene that puts the players as crew members on the ship being killed off one by one before the adventure proper begins - whilst it's good as sheer horror in its own right I find it a bit of a distraction and prefer not to use it. Once the investigation proper starts, there's a plan of the ship and resources to allow a cabin by cabin exploration in suitably creepy style, very atmospheric. Other flashbacks are triggered by what is to be found: use these ones, it will help the Investigators feel their sanity slipping away... There is plenty of scope for investigations on land as well, monsters to beat off and much, much more to keep everyone busy. It's impressive just how many threads there are to follow up, each amply resourced so that there are no moments of panic when an Investigator decides to explore a different angle out of the blue. Another cracker of an adventure.

Whilst the adventures are pretty much self-contained, there is a bunch of handouts at the back. PDF users can print them out, if you have the book you can photocopy them or they are available on the Pelgrane Press website to download.

Overall, this is an outstanding mini-campaign with four excellent adventures and a slightly different approach - the 'police procedural' style - which works very well with players ready and willing to accept the constraints involved.

Return to Arkham Detective Tales page.

Reviewed: 26 January 2016