If you are looking to get seriously weird with your Trail of Cthulhu game, this where you ought to be looking. The materials here are designed you to take the already-weird surrealist movement in 1930s France, mix in the Mythos and come up with something that is warped beyond all recognition. It's all about accessing the Dreamlands via occult means, meddling with them, then trying to repair the damage. And if the green fairy doesn't play a part, you will be wanting a glass or two by the time you are done. ('Green fairy', if you don't know, is a nickname of the time for absinthe, widely believed to have addictive and degenerative properties which led to it being banned in France in 1914, not being revived there until 2000! But I digress, back to this book.)
This is a toolbox rather than a campaign or adventures. It starts by presenting a history of the surrealist movement including write-ups of leading figures as NPCs and complete with a timeline. Next comes material on creating surrealist characters and giving them appropriate abilities such as 'dream-shaping' as well as being artists. Explorations of both 1930s Paris and the occult scene follow, and then comes the Dreamlands themselves. It all winds up with advice for the Keeper in running a campaign involving the Dreamlands and a scenario to get you started.
Reading through the material presented here spawns all manner of ideas. There's even the intriguing possibility of playing an actual member of the surrealist movement if you'd like - the entries on them are detailed enough for you to transfer onto a character sheet and pass on to an interested player. Fancy becoming Salvador Dalí? Now you can... or of course, the Keeper can use this resources to bring these luminaries to life in the game for the Investigators to meet. It's recommended, however, that careful secection of the most appropriate historical surrealist for at least most of the players will lead to the most memorable stories.
Paris too is brought to life with maps and snippets of information, many being places that were there in the 1930s and often traces remain today, if not the actual establishments. You'll soon find yourself chasing confidently around Paris even if you do not know the city, if you do you will feel at home. Naturally once you, as Keeper, are comfortable with the setting, you'll be able to make it feel real for your players as well.
The discussion on running your Dreamhounds game is fascinating and informative. In most Trail of Cthulhu games, the Investigators are the guys who come in and clean up the mess made by incautious, accidental or malicious messing with the Mythos: here, as real or imagined members of the surrealist movement, they are the ones who have made the mess in the first place. The plot involves both making the mess by finding, exploring and modifying the Dreamlands, then realising what they have done and attempting to rectify it, a somewhat different and refreshing approach to normal. The trap to hook them in is the chance to explore the ever-shifting precincts of dream, in an attempt to marshal its power to achieve the large-scale social
and political change they seek to bring about through their surrealist art. It's easy to see how such individuals would be tempted... and that's part of the reason for getting as many of your players as you can to play actual surrealists. A system for tracking what's going on - and more critically, what the players think is going on - is provided, it may seem a bit mechanical but handled with care to avoid spoiling the atmosphere you are creating in the game proves helpful in ensuring everything hangs together in a coherent - if weird - manner. It's call Arc and Pivot, and tracks what happens in each phase of an adventure and pinpoints when characters move from exploring to actively meddling, then realise the import of what they have done and attempt to put things straight. It's a somewhat 'story game' technique, but can be used to effect in your game if the players are comfortable with letting the underpinning mechanics intrude into the collective consciousness, perhaps in after-session discussions rather than during play.
There's all manner of advice about weaving the personal histories of the real figures into the narrative, handling the ever-present problem of characters having knowledge and skills that their players don't, the use of humour when dealing with surrealism, and much, much more. What do you do if the character's won't even enter the Dreamlands but hang around Paris? Or stay in the Dreamlands and won't come out? Find out here how to handle it seamlessly, never letting on that they are even causing an issue as far as the plot is concerned. How do you use investigative abilites in the Dream? Plenty of notes on that too. Study this section well and you will be able to handle everything with aplomb!
With a full-blown scenario to get things off to a flying start, this book equips you to dive headlong into surrealism in 1930s Paris and the Dreamlands (some might say the one is as weird as the other, perhaps that's how they manage to cross over...) and turn it into what may possibly become the most remarkable game you have ever run.
Return to Dreamhounds of Paris page.
Reviewed: 25 April 2017