The Introduction attempts to lay out the epic scope of what is being attempted here (a four-page table of contents is a giveaway as to its size...), with a tale running from the past into the future involving two generations of Investigators... yet it is designed to be customised or adapted to suit each group's needs, modular enough that bits can be taken out for those for which this is too much, or added to if you want to incorporate it into an existing campaign or have other ideas that might fit in. Or both. These opening notes are a bit strange, though. Since when was there a role-playing campaign in which what happens is NOT influenced by the choices made by the characters? Rightly denounced as railroading, there's little point in role-playing if your character's actions have no effect on the alternate reality in which you are playing.
This slightly odd Introduction out of the way, we come to a section Players' Background and Investigators. This is written as if it was to be available to the players - yet as just about all of this 300-odd page book is for the Keeper's eyes only, not many players are going to be buying a copy! Here it goes on a bit more about the pivotal role of the characters, the Investigators and presents three options: use existing Trail of Cthulhu characters, create new ones specifically for this campaign or select from the ten pre-generated characters provided. It goes on to discuss how to create characters that are suited to the campaign, ones who are likely to respond positively to the opening 'hook' of the wealthy daughter of an occultist being willing to provide money and other resources to those willing to investigate a family mystery. There are very player-directed thoughts about playing existing characters (mostly how to role-play them to good effect in this campaign if they've been around the Mythos block before) and on creating original characters which will fit in from the start. Creative use of Drives and Sources of Stability (recommended for this campaign) are also discussed.
We then move on to the Keeper Introduction. Here we are back to the concept that this campaign is different from most, in that this book contains a collection of clues, scenes, characters, motives, secrets, and ideas that, taken together, form the shape of a story which you and the Investigators will tell together. It's a tale that covers over a decade and spans the world (and perhaps beyond) filled with vaunting ambition and petty desires, with the chance to save the world or lose your own soul (or both). What's here is an outline, a framework, a collection of ideas, and Keepers are encouraged to mix it up as they like and be responsive to whatever the player-characters get up to - however much it drags you away from the campaign outline. That's how I run my games anyway, but it is refreshing to have this laid out so clearly in a way which will support - rather than frighten - people who have been more inclined to stick to the script until now. If you fancy developing and improving your game mastering skills, particularly in being more freefrom and flexible, it's almost worth getting this book for that alone (and even if you don't normally play Trail of Cthulhu.
Next the campaign structure - three acts, beginning, middle and end - and summary of what might happen are discussed. If you have this in mind, you can then mess with it as becomes appropriate. Starting with the hook of a daughter curious about the secret her occultist father took to his grave, there are a myriad of locales to visit - across America and around the world - as the Investigators follow up clues beginning with the book the daughter gives them, and find themselves hunting down cultists and even avatars of a dread godling. The climax of all this, in a very suitable location which I'm not going to mention (some pesky player might be reading this review!), turns out not to be the end at all, and there's more to be done before the unwitting world is saved. At least for now. It all begins in an insane asylum, and may end up there too...
The resources provided are magnificent, loads of detail that you can make use of as you make each location and event come to life for your group. It's all fairly modular, and much can be taken in whatever order suits the party. They'll wind up in the same place in the end. There are notes to help you deal with a campaign slanted towards the Pulp mode, with details of a 'hybrid mode' that introduces more Purist elements for those groups who prefer that style.
If you enjoy epic world-spanning adventures, the chance to save the world or die trying, with opportunities to display courage or cowardice, unleash violence or cower in the corner, interact and brawl... then this is the campaign for you. It's a masterpiece of the combination of a taut storyline with great freedom for the party in how they go about dealing with it - many campaigns and games promise such, but here it is laid out clearly and well supported throughout. And that's before you get to the handouts!
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Reviewed: 7 April 2017