18 November 2009

Review: Farewell, My Sanity (Chaosium, 2007)

This review was originally published in a slightly different form on RPG Geek.

This is Chaosium's Miskatonic University Library Association Monograph #0346, Farewell, My Sanity, originally published in 2007. The MULA books are limited print run, rough-draft style releases from Chaosium. Their purpose is threefold: one, to test the market on a limited basis to see if there is demand for a wider release; two, to allow authors a quick path to publication in the hobby; three, to save Chaosium money on editing, typesetting, art, etc.

The good news is that you can get more unusual material, or that with limited mainstream appeal, than you would otherwise. The downside is that this is often little more than a step above self-publishing, and they are often expensive compared to official releases in the main line. Farewell, My Sanity is an exception to this at $20 for 120pp, although there is a lot of white space that pads the page count unnecessarily.

Content-wise, this contains two excellent, solid scenarios that capture the feel of both Call of Cthulhu as well as Los Angeles.

Spoilers abound!  Players, stop reading now!

15 November 2009

Review: Our Ladies of Sorrow (Miskatonic River Press, 2009)

Kevin Ross has emerged as one of the most prolific authors in the history of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.  He became involved during the late eighties and has had his hand in many different products to at least some extent, over the life of the game.  He has produced quite a bit of work in the Dreamlands setting (sadly, most of it not very compelling to me) and its related city of Kingsport (Chaosium, 1991/2003), the latter completing the reknowned Lovecraft Country tour-de-force released by the company in the 1990s.  Ross' stellar sourcebook and mini-campaign Escape From Innsmouth (Chaosium, 1992/1997) cemented his reputation as one of the premier authors contributing to the Classic Era of the game.  In perhaps his greatest accomplishment, he wrote the first official appearance of The King in Yellow that paved the way for the modern interpretation of the Hastur Mythos, in his scenario "Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?"  Appearing in The Great Old Ones (Chaosium, 1989), it has become one of the most powerful modern additions to the Mythos.  Unfortunately, John Tynes' tremendous treatment of the Hastur Mythos in The Unspeakable Oath #1 (Pagan Publishing, 1990) followed by Tynes' and Dennis Detwiller's expansive, utterly definitive vision in Delta Green: Countdown (Pagan Publishing, 1999) would serve to overshadow Ross to an extent.  But Ross came first.

In 2008, Chaosium significantly liberalized its 3rd-party licensing policy, leading to a recent renaissance of new and returning contributors for Call of Cthulhu.  Keith "Doc" Herber and several others started Miskatonic River Press, a publishing company that brought together some of the greatest creative forces to release material for the game.  Ross came on board quickly, first supplying a scenario for New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley (2008), and then revising and releasing a project that he'd had developing for almost two decades, leading to the current book:  Our Ladies of Sorrow.

This review covers material for Keepers only; please treat all information as potential spoilers.  Prospective players, stop reading now.

09 November 2009

Review: The Keeper's Companion, vol. 1 (Chaosium, 2000)

(This review originally appeared in slightly different form at RPG Geek.)

This book is the second of four "core" books released by Chaosium in the early 2000s, the others being The 1920s Investigator's Companion (1997), The Creature Companion (1998), and The Keeper's Companion vol. 2 (2002). Like the other three, this is not "core" in any meaningful sense of the word, and is certainly not a requirement to play the game -- all you need for that is the basic Call of Cthulhu

About a quarter of the book is taken, with slight modifications, updates, and corrections, from the original Keeper's Compendium (1996). The majority of the book was written by Keith Herber, with a list of supplemental authors that read like a who's-who list of Cthuloid luminaries (including Aniolowski, Petersen, and Ross).

This book does not has a unifying theme (other than "for Keepers") but is an anthology of material covering a diverse array of subjects. As such, the chapters skip around a fair amount, and also their utility will vary wildly from Keeper to Keeper. This is to be expected. Anthologies in general are not all things to all people and, in my experience, tend to be very hit and miss.

08 November 2009

Review: Miskatonic University (Chaosium, 2005)

(This review originally appeared in slightly different form at RPG Geek.)

This is a large supplement written by Sam Johnson and released by Chaosium in 2005. It's the third reworking of official material published about the famous university, expanding upon 1995's Miskatonic University Guidebook by Sandy Atunes, which itself expanded on Keith Herber's groundbreaking Arkham Unveiled (1990). This is not a third edition, as most of the material here is either new, newly collated, or newly rewritten. Johnson put a lot of work into this and it was long in coming -- I think three years past its original projected release.

The main point of this supplement, as stated in the "Clear Credit" section, is to be the complete gaming reference for M.U., pulling in every creature, character, secret, etc. from the history of gaming scenarios and also most Mythos fiction. Unfortunately this has a fairly mixed effect, as I'll go into later.

Notate bene.

1.  All of reviews will contain appalling and unapologetic amounts of spoilers.  This is a Keeper-only blog and if you are currently, or ever intend to be, a player in a Call of Cthulhu game, stop reading!

2.  I will review RPG books that I have not played.  I am comfortable doing this for a few reasons:  #1, I have a lot of experience in the hobby and am rarely surprised by what a game brings to the table.  #2, it can be really difficult to get every aspect of a game, supplement, or scenario to a table.  A single book can comprise dozens or even hundreds of hours of play time.  #3, even if I were to exhaustively play out a book, due to the unique vagaries of individual groups and play sessions, it still wouldn't be a perfectly accurate assessment of how it would work for you and your group.

3.  I don't use a 5- or 10-star scale for rating things, I use a Fudge scale.  From best to worst, this is:
  • Superb
  • Great
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Mediocre
  • Poor
  • Terrible
I find this easier and more aesthetically-pleasing.

I have no manners but I must introduce.

Hi there.

Lately I've been on a reviewing kick over at RPG Geek.  I thought I'd transition that into my own reviewing site and see how things work out.  As you can see, what we have here is Lost Coast Mythos: Analog Horror Gaming from behind the Redwood Curtain.  What that means is...