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Release Goodman Games Kickstarts More Tentacled Horrors in Age of Cthulhu #8 (A Pre-Release Review)

The Cthulhu Mythos has become a staple source of inspiration and adventure for role-playing games for years now, probably due in part to its successful adaptation into so many forms of mass media. Untold numbers of novels, a plethora of movies, several TV series, and even the MMO World of Warcraft have mined horrific inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft’s timeless pulp imaginings.

But for gamers who love Lovecraftian role-playing, there are some very prolific sources of new Cthulhu Mythos adventure and content to use in their own RPG campaigns. One of those sources over the years has been Goodman Games, publisher of the wildly popular OSR heroic fantasy RPG Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Just this month, the publisher completed a very successful (351% funded) Kickstarter Campaign another volume in the Age of Cthulhu adventure series. Although due out in September 2014, Goodman Games has kindly provided a pre-release copy of Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng for this EN World review column, and an opportunity to find out more about this horrifying adventure.

Age of Cthulhu Vol. 8: Starfall over the Plateau of Leng

  • Writer: Jon Hook
  • Illustrators: Eddie Sharam (cover); (interior) Brad McDevitt; (cartography) Tom Martin
  • Publisher: Goodman Games
  • Year: 2014
  • Media: PDF (65 pages)
  • Price: $15.99 (Pre-Orders available from Goodman Games in PDF format)
Age of Cthulhu: Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng is the 8th installment in the series of adventure supplements for the Call of Cthulhu RPG 5th Edition. Utilizing rules for the Chaosium Basic Role-Playing system, this stand-alone adventure is accompanied by eight handouts to use during the course of play to enhance the role-playing experience. There are also six pre-generated characters ready to use as a jump-start directly into the adventure.

Production Quality
The production quality of Age of Cthulhu: Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng is very good, with sharp and imaginative writing from the author, and a pleasing user-friendly layout. The author clearly demonstrates a knack for capturing the right words, and his descriptions excel at evoking that sense of outré wrongness and dread which characterizes the Mythos. The layout is reminiscent of the early Chaosium adventure sourcebooks for the Call of Cthulhu RPG. There are even art deco style frames to create boxes for special text and notes during the course of the adventure.

Age of Cthulhu: Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng comes with a short table of contents, but lacks a set of PDF bookmarks for navigation. Whether this is planned for the final release, or simply an oversight in the pre-release copy is unknown. The stat blocks for creatures and NPCs are presented in a format readable by anyone familiar with the Chaosium Basic Role-Playing system.

The illustrations and art in Age of Cthulhu: Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng are also reminiscent of those 1st and 2nd Edition Call of Cthulhu RPG sourcebooks. The cover art depicting an alien and sanity-blasting arachnid is vibrant and sets a tone for the adventure to follow. The heavy line art of the interior illustrations have a great “old school” feel to them, and are an enhancement to the reading experience, as well as potentially useful at the gaming table. The other graphic art for handouts is excellent, and are appropriate for the 1920s period – the personalized business cards for each of the pre-generated characters is an especially nice touch. The cartography is good solid work, with one exceptional piece worth noting – a map of the Plateau of Leng could easily be printed on vellum and framed as a faux artifact.


Strange is the night where black stars rise…

[Reviewer's Note: Please note that most of the specific information about the plot of this adventure has been ommitted to avoid "spoilers" so that the review can be read by players and Keepers alike.]

Age of Cthulhu: Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng is set in the 1920s era of classic Call of Cthulhu RPG, and the adventure is divided into seven "scenes" each with its own locale and challenges. The adventure moves from scene to scene in a fairly linear fashion, although there are a two scenes which represent multiple paths to get to a particular location (another scene). However, each scene is in itself a little "sandbox" with plenty of room for divergent play styles and investigation.

Following the pages of the adventure itself, there are three appendices which contain the pre-generated investigators, player handouts, and the maps for the adventure. The pre-generated investigators are a diverse and interesting lot, but there is nothing preventing the players from bringing their own characters into this adventure supplement. The author also provides a "front" organization - the International Historical and Archeological Society or IHAS - to act as the reason for the investigators to be thrown together, but Keepers can easily use their own methods for gathering a team of investigators for the mission.

And while the adventure begins in the mundane world, with an investigation into the disappearance of a young and slightly disturbed artist, the bulk of the mystery and action occurs in the Dreamlands - as true fans of the Mythos had probably already guessed based upon the title. The author demonstrates a solid knowledge of the Mythos, and utilizes Dreamland lore from a number of sources beyond merely Lovecraft's work - including those writers who devoted their pens the suject of the long-lost Carcosa.

The adventure moves from an occult investigation into a hero-quest across the dangerous realms of the Dreamlands, but never devolves into some sort of hack-and-slash delve. Instead, the author draws on the mutable and nightmarish nature of the Dreamlands to present a horror-house of scenes which will likely have the investigators reeling from one SAN roll to the next on their mission.

The adventure offers a considerable number of opportunities for serious in-character role-playing, and will ultimately present the investigators with some serious moral and ethical choices to make before it ends. There are also instances throughout this mission to the Dreamlands which can mark the end of one or more of the investigators quite suddenly - dreaming is deadly serious business! For if the investigators all fail in their quest through the Dreamlands, the entire world is doomed to utter destruction!

Overall Score: 3.8 out of 5.0


Conclusions

Age of Cthulhu #8: Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng
offers players and Keepers a unique opportunity to experience the Dreamlands, a part of the Cthulhu Mythos setting which is often overlooked by game designers. The plot and writing for this adventure is vivid and exciting, with many horrifying occurances to strike shock and fear into the hearts of even the most courageous investigators. And most importantly, the adventure presents plenty of opportunities for deep in-character role-playing experiences, along with some moral challenges which will have players wondering whether they made the right choices afterall.

Age of Cthulhu #8: Starfall Over the Plateau of Leng
is a big adventure that will likely take quite a few sessions to complete. For Keepers longing to run an adventure in the Dreamlands, this is a dream come true, and reasonably priced for a fright-filled quest into unknown horrors.
Editorial Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary playtest copy of the product in hardbound format from which the review was written.

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

  • Presentation: 3.75
  • - Design: 4.0 (Excellent writing and plot; lovely "old school"-Chaosium layout)
  • - Illustrations: 3.5 (Good cover art; awesome interior illustrations with a OSR feel)
  • Content: 4.25
  • - Crunch: 4.0 (Good use of BRP rules; reasonably balanced encounters - where applicable!)
  • - Fluff: 4.5 (Massive shocks and scares here; exceptional use of the Mythos lore)
  • Value: 3.5 (Good price for a great CoC adventure - and you can pre-order it straight from the publisher!)
 

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