As this adventure was originally written for Free RPG Day 2008, it opens with an explanation that extols the core GUMSHOE system with which it was written. The key point of this is that it takes chance out of the actual finding of clues in an investigative game, focussing instead on the decision-making process of what to do with them. Characters can still screw up, but not because their player botched a die roll. It then explains Trail of Cthulhu, about how it uses these game mechanics to allow investigation of the Cthulhu Mythos... note that Trail of Cthulhu had only just been launched when this adventure was released. It also takes the opportunity to advertise other game lines using GUMSHOE: The Esoterrorists, Fear Itself and Mutant City Blues, not to mention The Book of Unremitting Horrors which can serve as a bestiary for any GUMSHOE game.
Then on to the adventure itself. Designed to demonstrate the game, it plays off on a 'missing man' theme, the titular Thomas Fell about whom various truths are revealed - he's not quite the fellow everyone thought he was! There's plenty of advice on how to actually run the adventure (as the GM or Keeper is as likely to be as new to this game as the players), and everything is laid out clearly. Ideal as a one-off introduction to the game, the adventure can start a campaign or even appear in the middle of one (which might be harder unless you plot in advance so Thomas Fell is already a part of the Investigators' lives).
The basic premise is that Thomas Fell has gone missing, and the Investigators have turned up at his house to try and work out what's happened to him. The first part of the adventure involves investigations in his house and is very freeform, ending only when they discover where he went... by ending up there themselves! The remainder of the adventure is figuring out what's going on and the all-important point of how to get home again, which involves a rather momentous decision.
The detail is good and everything is presented clearly (apart from a few instances of 'go to page XX' that a good proofread ought to have caught!). There's a really neat feature in that you should build Thomas Fell on the fly based on the comments made by the Investigators as they poke around his house, so he will end up being pretty much as they envision him to be. You may or may not wish to let your players in on this, there's some discussion of the point to help you decide. As you can imagine, pre-generated characters are quite important to this story: they all have some connection to Thomas Fell - indeed two of them are his sons. There's also a police detective, a wealthy fellow who was funding Fell's research into the occult and a Professor who is Fell's business partner.
For all of its shortness, there's an impressive amount to see and do in this adventure, although it should only take a single session to play. It makes for a good introduction to the game, and an excellent adventure in its own right.
Return to The Murderer of Thomas Fell page.
Reviewed: 8 February 2017