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Trail of Cthulhu: Shadows Over Filmland

Shadows Over Filmland

This work opens with 'Double Feature,' a scholarly essay comparing and contrasting 1930s horror movies with Lovecraft's work: similar themes but different treatments. Lovecraft describes everything in detail while movies suggest with light and shadow, much being left to the viewer's imagination. Many elements are common to both, but the movies have more random, innocent victims while most of Lovecraft's bring horror upon themselves; and in the movies the monsters usually are defeated by the final reel... even if they return in the sequel! Your games will likely draw on both horror movies and the written word, and those pesky Mythos horrors have a habit of popping up in the next adventure.

Next in 'Backlot Gothic' there is an analysis of the elements that make up the setting of so many 1930s horror movies, the strangely-archaic yet supposedly in the contemporary world Mittel-Europe of brooding castles, suspicious peasants wielding pitchforks and flaming torches, vampires and wolves and the like. The whole is presented with an eye to empowering you to use it effectively as a game setting. Snippets of descriptive text are presented as the game equivalent of stock footage which you can read to set the scene, giving signposts to your players as to the sort of place in which they find themselves. This section also includes an impressive array of NPCs to insert at appropriate points, scene-setters as much as the scenery that you can describe. It ends with a selection of adventure seeds, brief paragraphs that could spawn an entire scenario in this particular style.

These two introductory chapters are followed by a collection of full adventures created in this mode. Whether you want to conduct archaeological expeditions in Egypt, chase after voodoo zombies or grave robbers, or even cross swords with Dracula himself; each finely-crafted adventure is constructed to allow a steady progression through the clues in a evocative atmosphere suitable to the plot. All of them could easily make a fine film! There is plenty of variety here, with a range of emotions from outright terror through intense role-playing to problem-solving, and many opportunities for the more physical to engage in combat as well.

The last adventure is particularly worthy of note: it involves the characters in the horror movie business itself as their aid is enlisted to halt production of one that's getting rather too close to the Things That Should Not Be! It could prove a nice self-referential end-piece to a series of adventures drawn from this book, or further reinforce the blurring of reality that too much Mythos engenders.

This is a masterful fusion of two seminal strands within the horror genre: 1930s cinema and the writings of Lovecraft and similar authors. The adventures tend to the Pulp side, but there's plenty for the more Purist to revel in as well. Whatever your characters like best - investigating, brawling, interacting or going slowly insane - they will find plenty of scope here.

Return to Shadows Over Filmland page.

Reviewed: 9 May 2010