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Trail of Cthulhu: Out of Time

Out of Time

This is a compilation of four previously-published adventures - Not So Quiet, The Black Drop, The Big Hoodoo, and Castle Bravo... it's nice to have them all in one place, and at least one is no longer available as a stand-alone product. Each is set in a specific time, mostly outside the core 1930s setting used for Trail of Cthulhu - one from the First World War and two set in the 1950s - and all can be played Pulp or Purist, depending on your tastes. Due to this timeline, unless you've introduced time travel into your game it's unlikely that you will want to fit them into the same campaign and you may well want to make use of the pre-generated characters provided for each one.

Not So Quiet is a one-off scenario, with pre-generated characters provided, set in a military hospital located just behind the lines in Belgium during the First World War. It's written as a purist adventure, but if you prefer to go a bit more pulp some ideas are provided to enable you to run it in that style.

There's some background that explains what is going on at the hospital, then it's on with the action, with the opening scene being in an ambulance convoy heading towards the hospital. Those characters who are injured and who will become patients at the hospital should determine with the Keeper what wounds they have and how they acquired them, this can be dealt with in a flashback scene (which may be held in reserve by the Keeper to be run at a dramatically-appropriate moment). For those who have been posted to the hospital, likely as medical staff, there's a slightly calmer introductory scene... but everyone ends up in the same ambulance convoy, although they do not know each other at this point. Then it comes under fire...

Assuming they survive the attack, everyone arrives at the hospital. It's pretty chaotic. Injured characters will have to be assessed and assigned to wards, those who have come to work here need to report in and be assigned their duties. There's also a rather excitable chaplain to deal with. From then on in it is a case of trying to figure out what is going on, with a host of NPCs to get to grips with, and various events and encounters as they figure out what is happening and how it can be halted.

Designed for a single evening's play it has the scope to be intense and highlight how even worse war can become if the Mythos gets mixed in. However, the mix of characters provided may not be ideal - it's hard to see how they will gel into a team - and an endnote suggests possible solutions mostly based on creating your own characters. Intended as a one-off, there are no thoughts for a follow-up - although it might possibly be used as a 'prequel' to a regular game: this is where the Investigators met and first encountered Things That Should Not Be, then skip ten years or so and they meet again to commence their adventuring careers.

Next, The Black Drop. Cabable of working well in both purist or pulp modes (or a combination of both) this adventure is set in the remote Kerguelen archipelago (far south in the Indian ocean), which is just about to be abandoned. Oddly, just as the settlers depart, a German expedition arrives with mysterious purpose... and what lurks there, in the bleak rocks?

The background explains all for the Keeper and lays out the terrible choice facing the Investigators. You may decide to keep this as a one-off, or notes are provided if you prefer to weave it into an existing campaign (but bear in mind that this adventure may well be the party's last if you do). Pre-generated characters are provided and they are, of course, all embedded into the story. If you are using your own characters, assorted reasons for why they might be there are provided.

The adventure itself begins on the voyage to the Kerguelen Islands, and there's plenty of interaction to be had (and clues to be picked up) before the ship arrives there... and a bleak, cold and unwelcoming place it is, too. Everyone is dropped off, their ship has other matters to attend to and will be back to pick them up in a couple of weeks. There's a flurry of activity with the last few settlers packing up, the German expedition turns up having lost one of their number and again there are plenty of opportunities for interaction and to find yet more clues... and then things begin to go wrong. Murder and arson are the least of it...

The Investigators will be able to wander the main island pretty much as they please: there's plenty to be found... and a fair bit going on. And eventually they will find... well, the climax involves a dark and dreadful deity, cultists hell-bent on restoring his power and even greater fanatics trying to stop it. Anyone not ending up a sacrifice or in some other way dead will be very lucky indeed.

There's a wonderful sense of bleakness and approaching menace, a creepy cinematic atmosphere that thickens with every moment. NPC notes, handouts, a couple of photos of wildlife, and maps of the islands (and a ship plan) help you keep on top of everything and create a chilling adventure that will live long in the players' minds (there's a good chance that their characters won't survive to remember anything, though)... and all under the threat that if that deity isn't stopped things look bad for the entire world.

Based on the real-world demise of an early rocket experimenter in 1953, The Big Hoodoo messes with real events and people shamelessly, mixing a twist of Mythos madness into what is known about the demise of one Jack Parsons, who had been experimenting with rockets in his backyard and, according to the police, blown himself up through careless handling of rocket fuel. But the Investigators - his friends - suspect otherwise...

Pre-generated characters are provided for what is supposed to be a one-off adventure. Use them, they are embedded into the plot... even if the players may be a bit surprised at some of the names! Four are provided, but there are copious suggestions for additional ones if you have more players. It is intended to be played in the style of film noir, deep on background, with an array of faintly seedy characters following their own agendas. History has been messed with, however, and a few bits have been changed around. You may prefer to change them back. Here we have a Daedalus Vance Wimpole who runs a cult called Psychohistory. This is based on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, but you may know Psychohstory as the science or art practised in Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels - in THIS alternate history, Asimove wrote the Academy series using a discipline called Scientology. If you or your group find that too confusing (I do!), then change them back.

It all begins at the wake for Jack Parsons, which the Investigators are attending due to links with science-fiction fandom, in which all - including the dear departed - have been active. From then on in, it's a descent into a swirling morass of magick ritual that bodes ill to summon up something that really ought not to walk this earth... or are some such somethings already here, possessing NPCs or even an Investigator? As usual, victory will be achieved by preventing the climactic ritual from being enacted.

There's a lot going on, and hordes of NPCs with their own concerns and requests, an investigative journalist nosing around... and of course a host of clues to pick up. You will need to read through the entire adventure carefully before running it, but everything is quite well laid out down to the best mannerisms for bringing individual NPCs to life. There are several useful handouts and sidebars brimming with information - there's a lot for you (and subsequently the Investigators) to take in.

Although presented as a one-off, this needs more time than the standard 4-hour convention slot, or even an evening's play - there is really too much to pack in although it might be possible if absolutely necessary. It would be far better spread over two or three sessions. It's a low-combat, high interaction adventure, a delightful alternate history involving many names you have probably heard about.

Lastly, Castle Bravo is set in 1954, rather more modern than most of Trail of Cthulhu, and it sets the Investigators as sailors and scientists off on a cruise to watch an atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll. Needless to say, after the first test shot in the series, strange things begin to happen and it's up to the party to save themselves and their ship... if they can! As this is likely to be a one-off adventure, pre-generated characters are provided.

There's no real need for a hook, the Investigators are aboard the ship whether they like it or not. There's a backstory that explains just what is going on, and then the pre-generated characters are presented. There are six (a naval helicopter pilot, a meteorologist, a naval chaplain, a medically-qualified research scientist, the ship's master-at-arms, and a corpsman) although it's recommended that the adventure works best with four players. They are presented in narrative format, so it's probably worth transferring them to character sheets before the game. Then it's on to the adventure...

This begins very early in the morning (it's still dark) with the ship on station 38 miles from the test site, about five minutes before the test shot is scheduled to take place. The Investigators can get to know one another and key NPCs at this time. Neatly, each character has a personal chunk of 'background knowledge' which it is suggested that you hand out at this time. A map of the area and a basic blocky plan of the ship are provided to help everyone get orientated. There's also quite a lot of scene-setting detail so those unused to naval operations can get the feel of it, and know where and who the important individuals (like senior officers) are. Then the bomb goes off...

There are real-world issues to deal with as a matter of urgency, but that's not all what with spooky visions and several crew members behaving oddly. There's lots going on and as time progresses it gets weirder and weirder. Investigators who retain their health and their marbles will be kept busy. Saving the day - at least as far as the world in general is concerned - may require drastic measures... and there is a remarkabky eerie ending if they fail!

This adventure has atmosphere and mounting horror in spades and could make an excellent movie, it's pretty cinematic. In style, it's mostly 'purist' but with a bunch of military around might trend towards 'pulp' depending on character actions. It's definitely a stand-alone adventure, but one to be relished to the full.

They are all good adventures, and this is a useful collection to have if you enjoy one-off adventures exploring specific aspects of the Mythos. They are all exciting and character-driven, with the usual risks to life, limb and sanity any Investigator expects.

Return to Out of Time page.

Reviewed: 9 March 2017