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Trail of Cthulhu: Out of Space

Out of Space

The introduction - Behind the Pallid Meme - to the first adventure by Robin D. Laws gives a quite disturbing glimpse into the author's imagination (and a shameless plug for some of his short stories that I think I'm going to have to track down...), flaoting some interesting ideas for a really warped campaign which alas isn't the one herein, although this first scenario, The Repairer of Reputations, is strange enough to fit right in.

Then on to The Repairer of Reputations itself. This adventure has an intriguing basis: it takes a piece of speculative fiction written in 1895 but set in 1920 and dumps the characters straight into the middle of its plot in a fine alternate history. The story is called The Repairer of Reputations by Robert W. Chambers, inventor of The King in Yellow stories about a play so warped it drove all who read or see it insane, which was adopted by Lovecraft and his followers and woven into Mythos lore.

Chambers' story itself is reproduced here, well worth a read if you have not encountered it before and, of course, pretty-well essential if you are going to run an adventure based upon it! It tells the tale of a hideous conspiracy, one which is stopped (barely) in the story but in the adventure things are changed around a bit and it is the Investigators (naturally) that stand between a mostly-peaceful, idyllic even, alternate America and the machinations of Things That Should Not Be, a plot that would place a minion of Hastur on a newly-created imperial throne.

Next we read of the alternate history, giving America a surface tranquility but at a cost our modern minds would view as being far too high to bear. A truncated character generation system is presented to provide semi-pregenerated but personalised characters for your players who will fit in to the alternate America as it is their home. They are further developed during play, giving an almost story game air in places as once the Investigators have had a chance to introduce themselves, one is selected by the Keeper to begin the scenario and he then has to call on others as their particular talents are needed, with scope to define that Investigator's persona as they are introduced into the action.

As the adventure begins, all this is laid out clearly for the Keeper, but you will have to ensure that your players know what is expected of them. It is very much an adventure of interaction and investigation, the plot unfolding before their eyes... but violence lurks closely underneath the urbane surface, and there is ample opportunty for a brawl as the adventure reaches a climax. Various conclusions are provided, from which you can choose the most appropriate outcome based on character actions.

This is an intriguing and well-presented adventure, by its very nature a one-off, with a subtle nightmarish air to it. Pick your players carefully, with the right people it will prove a memorable game indeed. Or perhaps you'll take the ideas Laws was kicking around, and turn it into a complete campaign...

Next up is Flying Coffins, here introduced by an essay The Jolly Old RFC in which author Adam Gauntlett with a historical tale about how a bright red HP Sauce delivery van, pressed into service as an ammunition transport, led several of their aircraft to safety in filthy weather under German pursuit. It goes on to discuss the nature of the early RFC and the air war, themes to bring into your game as appropriate.

The background material explains which Mythos creature is to blame - they're to be found in the atmosphere around 20,000 and resent these pesky impertenent humans in the flying machines intruding into 'their' airspace. At least they don't care if the intruders are British or German, they are annoyed by all of them! Or at least, not until one of the Germans paints a 'good luck' sign on his aircraft - unfortunately one suggested by a sorceror relative who showed him how to draw a Yellow Sign. The spine of the adventure is laid out, and with the help of no less a worthy as Arthur Conan-Doyle (currently working as a war correspondent) and the urging of Military Intelligence, the Investigators find themselves engaged in aerial duels with a leading German ace...

There is a section on aerial combat, both game mechanics and an idea of tactics, with quite an elegant system to handle an aerial dogfight between two aircraft. There's an example to demonstrate the system in action, and details of the aircraft used by both sides in the conflict. Anti-aircraft fire, attacking ground targets and other aspects of earlu aviation warfare are also covered. There is plenty here to empower some exciting combat in the air during your game.

It all begins with a sortie to destroy a German observation balloon somewhere over the Western Front. During the ensuing dogfight, the Investigators notice a flying creature hauling a pilot bodily out of his aircraft and flying upwards with him, casually tearing his head off as it leaves! From then on the adventure intensifies as the Investigators try to find out what is going on and then after several aerial encounters comes the climax of the adventure, with Allied forces making a big push on the ground with aircraft of all nationalities swarming overhead.

Six pre-generated characters are provided, and there are some good photographs of appropriate aircraft. If for whatever reason you don't want to play members of the Royal Flying Corps a few changes to names and backgrounds - and to the aircraft they fly, of course - will enable you to play American, French or even German aviators instead. This adventure provides an interesting glimpse into how the Mythos can disrupt conventional warfare (even if it's almost by accident), a neat bit of alternate history that provides for an exciting scenario. The rules for aerial combat work quite well, even if you don't want to add the Mythos into the mix and prefer a 'straight' WW1 aviation game or campaign.

Next, Jason Morningstar introduces his Many Fires adventure with a Commentary in which he explains that the scenario was spawned by a chance remark in a biography of General Pershing (who features in the adventure) that led him to a tragedy in which his wife and all but one of his children died in a house fire. It's an interesting look at how an adventure comes to be written, how the ideas develop mixing fact and imagination until the whole is ready to be presented - which it then is. It's an unabashed Pulp-style adventure set in northern Mexico, with plenty of adventure and action, evil cults and wielders of magic to keep everyone on their toes. Basically, the Investigators are asked to accompany an ageing General Pershing to Mexico to finish what the Mexico Punative Expedition of 1916 began, dealing with rebels... but of course there's a bit more to it than that.

Pre-generated characters, with backstories that weave them into the plot, are provided and their use is recommended unless you want to run this as part of a larger campaign with existing Investigators. If you are doing that, some hooks to help you get them involved with the trip are provided. There's plenty of background on Mexico and the people involved available for Investigators to discover through the usual channels before they go - and a big section of Secret Background for the Keeper's eyes only: the lowdown on what is really going on... and what Pershing is really up to.

The adventure itself starts with the party leaving Cuidad Chihuahua for the Valle de Bustillos where all the action takes place. Plenty of material is provided about places to visit and people to interact with, this should help bring the adventure to life and fuel the action. There's all sorts of folk here from natives and even a bunch of Mennonites to rebels and members of a fire-worshipping cult. Following the clues should eventually lead the party to witness the climax of the adventure: a scene straight out of Indiana Jones with cultists enacting a ritual to summon their deity... will they manage to stop them?

Following this is a magnificent array of resources and information for the Keeper, with plenty more NPCs, weird drugs to sample and more. Finally, there are character sheets for the pre-generated Investigators. Each has their own background showing their involvement not just with the adventure at hand, not even just with Pershing, but with each other as well. This needs to be handled carefully as it has the potential to set them against one another - not all groups of players like that, but you know your players better than the authors! Amend as necessary. There are also some beautiful handouts (even if the list thereof refers to 'Page XX' several times - look it's about the only proofing error here apart from confusion between 'discrete' and 'discreet' in one of the character sheets!): maps, documents, newspaper clippings and the like. It's a well-presented alternate history adventure with plenty of pulp action, neatly weaving Mythos fiction through known historical fact to provide something that proves extremely entertaining to run.

The next adventure is Hell Fire by Adam Gauntlett, who has provided an essay on London in the Time of King George to introduce it. He paints a picture which lives up to his claim that it's a setting that seems designed for a perfect horror game, and reading what he has to say spawns ideas for adventure aplenty! And that's before he suggests a few plot ideas of his own that interested Keepers may wish to develop. The adventure itself set in the 1760s mostly in England with a side trip to the Colonies. It revolves around preserving the reputation of the Hell Fire Club, an organisation dedicated to rational philosophy (God does not exist... in a day and age when everyone believed or at least gave lip-service to religion) and fine literature (as in, pornography) - not perhaps the most respectable body, yet many otherwise upstanding members of society belong to it.

There is plenty of background for the Keeper including what is actually going on and the REAL threat to their comfortable Club life, notes on the times and relevant rules changes: some alterations to skills and rules for adjudicating a duel. These are normally conducted with a sword, and all gentlemen should know at least the basics of wielding one. Fortunately pre-generated characters are provided, and it's probably best to use them. Unless you are really into this period of history, it will probably be a one-off adventure.

The adventure begins when the Investigators meet in a coffee house (consider the origins of Lloyd's of London, it's either that or a similar establishment) with a fellow Club-member who wants help. A lady is trying to force him into marriage, most unsuitable - I mean, she's the sort of person who's been posing as a life model - but has some letters of his she is threatening to use to take him to court in a Breach of Promise case if he won't. He's arranged for her to visit tonight and wants the party to go and purloin the letters whilst she is out at his place. Needless to say, it's not the letters they find when they go round... and what are those American fellows doing?

Events develop thick and fast, with an emergency meeting of the Hell Fire Club, various events on the streets of London and assorted avenues of enquiry to follow up all amply provided for... and there is an inquisitive journalist poking around, and some ladies of negotiable affection to deal with as well. There probably will not be too much combat (unless the party fights a lot of duels) but there is plenty of interaction, and to put matters properly to rest will involve a trip to Bermuda to deal with those Colonials! A suitably dramatic climax provides an opportunity to save the day, indeed the entire New World. This is an interesting adventure that - like all good alternative history - blends historical fact with plausible plotlines, weaving the whole into something that might have been... it makes for a cracking adventure with plenty going on!

The final adventure is The Millionaires Special set on R.M.S. Titanic, complete with iceberg. No essay this time, but the adventure itself is jam-packed with interesting background material. In this adventure, the Investigators - all travelling aboard and in First Class, no less - meet a gentleman who has a mummy (the Egyptian sort) that he's going to donate to an American museum but is eager to show it off to anyone who is interested. There's a legend that anyone who looks at this particular mummy's face is doomed, but that's all a silly superstition, isn't it?

The background for the Keeper explains how the being doomed stuff is not quite as silly as it sounds (with a little bit of help from the Mythos, of course) and provides a spine for the adventure. This begins with a luncheon date with the mummy's owner and ends (naturally) with a certain iceberg... There's some interesting background on the trans-Atlantic trade of the time, and a quite detailed timeline of the Titanic's voyage. Rather neatly, all the encounters and events of the adventure are included in the timeline, making it clear what is going on around the Investigators as well as whatever they are focussed on at the time. There's a goodly sprinkling of NPCs who do not have anything to do with the plot, another nice touch to remind players that the world does not revolve around their characters... subplots such as shipboard romances or gambling games are also encouraged.

There are vivid descriptions of scenes, the Titanic was noted for her luxury and there is plenty to draw upon here as you set the scene for your players. Six pre-generated characters are provided, or you can use/generate your own, but they will need a high Credit Rating to be in first class. Additional rules material is provided for everything from playing cards to surviving in icy waters. The actual sinking is handled well, and perhaps at least some of the Investigators will survive... or will something else catch up with them? There are some general notes about handling subsequent events should you have survivors on your hands.

Overall, it's a good exciting adventure which could probably be played out in a longish evening. Fact and fiction are woven together well but as always when dealing with real events, be aware of your group's needs - I have a role-player friend who lost an ancestor on the Titantic and was very upset and annoyed about the movie, I'd not invite him to play this... but for those without such a connection it makes for an excellent game and knowing what will happen adds a certain edge.

The adventures in this compilation are still stand-alone, there's not been any attempt to link them - nor do I think it would have been possible. The additional essays are interesting, probably not enough to make it worth buying if you have all the adventures already, but if you do not it's an excellent way to get your hands on a collection of memorable and fascinating scenarios that explore the possibilities of this game to the full.

Return to Out of Space page.

Reviewed: 14 April 2017