This is a collection of resources for those who'd like to run Trail of Cthulhu adventures set during the Great War, including two completely new scenarios as well as Sisters of Sorrow, the already-published one involving sailors in a German U-Boat who fall foul of Deep Ones. The introduction talks about many aspects of running a Great War-themed game, perhaps summed up in the title. 'Dulce et Decorum Est' is part of a Latin quote from the poet Horace, 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori' or 'It is sweet and honourable to die for your country'. That's the spirit with which many went to war...
... but of course, they didn't expect to encounter the Mythos! So, is it Pulp or Purist? Purist aims for a philosophical horror, while Pulp strives for action - so you might be forgiven for thinking that as it's a war setting, action is paramount and this will be a Pulp campaign. Yet even amidst the action, reflection and introspection on the sheer horror of war - remember they described World War 1 as a 'war to end all wars' - may give scope for some Purist elements to sidle in, especially if the stories you want to tell are not in the thick of military action.
Whilst this is by no means a historical treatise, when dealing with real history (even if you're going to twist it out of all recognition) it's worth getting the basics straight. So there is a good detailed timeline starting with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo that sparked things off and covering all parts of the world and the oceans right through to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in July 1919. Next comes some rules stuff, with new and amended skills and abilities of a military nature, the rules for a gas attack... and even how to deal with Investigators who survive the war and continue adventuring. Many people playing games set in the 1920s and 1930s will have had characters with a military background... here's a change to gain a vivid and personal one!
This is followed by notes on the war in the air, with WW1 being the first in which there was any significant use of aircraft. The detail here will enable you to run dog-fights in the skies and provides a hanger-full of different aircraft and their characteristics to ensure all combatants have the appropriate ones. Next comes a look at the war in the trenches, with copious detail on the hardships and hazards on this fairly distinctive (and unpleasant) way of waging war. There's also that new-fangled invention the tank to contend with. War at sea is also covered - including the true tale of a 'Ghost U-Boat' that might be repurposed for game needs.
The solid factual material is followed by some Mythos notes. Warfare always delight the likes of Mordiggian, the Charnel God, so there's an extensive introduction showing how he can fit in. Basically, he's in his element! With little concern for actually interacting with anyone (or even accepting worship), he just wants everyone dead. So perhaps he'll be trying to instigate even greater bloodshed. He may cause strange apparitions, and there may be those who try to call upon him to aid their cause, their side, by offering to rain death and destruction upon their opponents and thus feed his appetite for death. Various Mythos tomes are touched upon, as well as the effects - particularly on people's Stability - of Mordiggian taking a personal interest on the battlefield. Should anyone be unwise enough to try it, there's also a ritual to summon him... unlike many rituals, this one can be cast during combat (in fact, Mordiggian quite likes that!). There's an example cult, woven beautifully out of the real-world habit of handing out white feathers to men who did not appear to be 'doing their bit' and other people influnced by Mordiggian for you to use in your plots, too.
Next comes a discussion of settings for your campaign. There's a lot of scope once you have decided on a Great War game, and this discussion is designed to assist you in making the necessary choices. There are more options that throwing your Investigators into a battle, perhaps they are active on the home front, supporting the war effort. Or perhaps they are in Paris, a city in a strange frenetic state, starving, freezing yet exciting to behold. And of course, there is the battlefront: the trenches spread across France, or maybe somewhere like Palestine and the Middle East.
Then come the actual scenarios, beginning with Vaterland. This is set in 1914 New York (with America, of course, still neutral - they didn't enter the war until 1917 unless, of course, your game changes the course of history!) aboard the premier German vessel of the Hamburg-American Line. This vessel, the Vaterland, is currently stranded in New York harbour, as although they are officially neutral the Americans don't intend to let Germany have her back any time soon. The Investigators take the role of journalists investigating what is going on aboard... the least of which appears to be a death cult operating somewhere below decks. This was a real ship, and there's a lot of detail to help you create the right atmosphere, as well as plenty of material about those to be encountered there - some real and others fictional. Chief, perhaps, of the real people is William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper mogul. And of course Treasury Agents. Lots of them, all convinced that the crew of the Vaterland are up to no good. In that they are probably right, although they were thinking about spies and saboteurs... It all begins with a gala party, then things (as they do) take a turn for the worse, with a cult ritual and dimension warps that take people to some quite unexpected places. With a good mix of intrigue, interaction and out-and-out terror and plenty of opportunity for combat, this works on several levels depending how your group likes to play. Six pre-generated characters are provided, but it will work fine with appropriate ones of your own.
Next, Dead Horse Corner is set in the trenches of the Western Front, with the Investigators tasked to find out why a trench has been abandoned without trace by the people supposed to be there. It's written from an Allied point of view, but change a few names and it will work as well from the German side. There's a lot of sloshing through muddy trenches and foes (both Mythos and mundane) to fight. Again, pre-generated characters are provided, all members of the British Army of various ranks. If you choose to use your own characters, they too will have to be military personnel. Nobody else is out here. There's potential here to bring home the awfulness of trench warfare, and Purists can create a bleak atmosphere of despair.
Finally, there's Sisters of Sorrow, set on a German U-Boat. This is a creepy and claustrophobic adventure in which the Investigators take on the roles of members of the submarine's crew, and pre-generated characters are provided. It's likely this will be a one-off adventure, so it is probably best to use them. There is some excellent historical background on German underwater warfare and the U-boat service to help you set the scene (this can be shared with players), and enough explaination for the Keeper as to what is actually going on. It will help if the whole group has a good feel for life on an early submarine, so be sure to discuss everyday details with them before and during play.
The actual scenes for the adventure are well-paced and designed to bring out the claustrophic nature of life aboard an early submarine. If you're looking for background, hunt down a copy of the 1981 TV series Das Boot - although that was a WW2 submarine, it has the same sort of atmosphere you are aiming at. Whilst many events are inward-looking, concentrating on what is going on aboard, there are external events including enemy ships on the surface, an abandoned sunk U-boat and strange noises from outside the hull. Even whalesong sounds spooky if you are in a submarines...
Playtest notes suggest that this adventure can very easily end in a bloodbath which nobody survives, although some smart - or lucky - groups did defeat all challenges and emerge victorious. It seems that those groups where one of the Investigators is the Kapitan of the U-boat have a greater chance of survival; you may prefer this route if you'd rather not kill any more PCs than you have to!
If you fancy taking your Mythos adventures back to the Great War, this is an excellent resource. The adventures probably work best as one-offs rather than as a linked campaign as it's quite difficult to see how the same people could be involved in such disparate adventures. Any one of them (if the characters survive) could be the beginning of (or indeed a part of) a campaign of your own devising. Well worth your attention if you have a mind for wartime adventuring.
Return to Dulce et Decorum Est page.
Reviewed: 4 April 2017