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Posts tagged ‘trail of cthulhu’

Review: Cthulhu City

January 17th, 2018

Cthulhu City - Gareth Ryder-HanrahanGreat Arkham.

The year is 1937 and the little towns of Dunwich, Innsmouth, and Kingsport have been swallowed up by the cosmopolis of Great Arkham. This sprawling city of cyclopean skyscrapers, dimension-twisting alleys, and Dagon-touched mobsters has no place in history as we know it; it may not even have a place on Earth at all.

Great Arkham is a place where the Stars Are Coming Right. (Or perhaps they already have.) The skein of reality is stretched taut across the Mythos here, and horrors intrude into the daily lives of the citizens. Most have learned how to shut out, suppress, or deny what surrounds them. Some exploit their secret knowledge, embracing damnation and slow obliteration for the temporary blaze of glory. Others, like the PCs, fight back (or seek to escape).

Unfortunately, those are the ones most likely to find that the frontiers of the city are shut to them: Geography warps. Trains break down. Or the enigmatical and terrifying Transport Police (supposedly fighting a never-ending battle against a strange plague of “typhoid” which is never cured) will enforce a quarantine and turn would-be émigrés (escapees?) back… or detain them in facilities where inexplicable and alien lights gleam from barred and shuttered windows.

If that doesn’t immediately sound kind of amazing — a sort of Dark City mixed with glasshouse panopticon mixed with an obscene glut of Mythosian truth that would be almost pulp-ish if it wasn’t so overwhelmingly nihilistic — well… I guess Cthulhu City isn’t for you.

If it does sound amazing, then I’m happy to report that in many, many ways Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan has delivered brilliantly on the concept. He has stitched together a vast array of Mythos elements — something which, in my experience, often goes awry — into a cohesive whole, and in the places where things don’t necessarily quite work out he adroitly turns the weak joint into a point of strength by tying the inconsistency into the bleak, existential horror of the whole thing.

And despite the Kafka-esque oppression inherent to the entire concept, Ryder-Hanrahan nevertheless weaves into the tapestry enough hooks of hope that those not interested in embracing hopelessness, despair, and inevitable destruction can fight back against the darkness.

The result is a rich, intriguing, and potentially very rewarding setting that will allow you to frame unique scenarios that would otherwise be impossible to create. And that, in my opinion, is very high praise indeed.

RESERVATIONS

Unfortunately, I now need to damp that enthusiasm a little bit with a number of reservations.

The first thing I’ll note is that Cthulhu City is sort of an Advanced Trail of Cthulhu in terms of its setting. It assumes that the GM will be possessed of a fairly vast knowledge of the Mythos both broad and deep, and so frequently contents itself with merely making evocative allusions to various elements of the Mythos with the expectation that you will recognize the reference and fill in the details. (Perhaps the most surprising allusion, for me, was to Roger Zelazny’s A Night in Lonesome October, which is a truly delightful book that I make a point of pulling out for a rereading each Halloween season.)

Which is probably fine. Because Cthulhu City really shouldn’t be anyone’s first foray into the Mythos. So whether you build up that stock of Mythos knowledge by voraciously consuming everything Lovecraft (and the other likely suspects like Ramsey Campbell and August Derleth) wrote or by running a campaign or three of Mythos-tinged horrors, Cthulhu City will be waiting for you.

The second thing I’ll note is Ryder-Hanrahan’s technique of describing the setting through “multiple truths”. The book, for example, doesn’t resolve the question of whether Greater Arkham is an intrusion into our reality; a dimensional pocket; a poor recreation of 20th century life by an alien civilization or some future epoch; the true history of our world scooped out of the timeline by intrepid heroes in order to make reality a better place; or something else entirely.

Ryder-Hanrahan drills down and uses this approach at every level of the setting. Every NPC, for example, is described in three different versions — Victim (generally meaning a problem for the PCs to solve); Sinister (someone actively aligned with the Mythos); and Stalwart (a resource or patron for the PCs to benefit from). Every location is given a Masked (the Mythos may be there, but isn’t overt) and Unmasked (the site is a source of immediate danger) version. (Often multiple versions of each are given. There’s at least one NPC who is presented in six different versions.)

Ultimately, this “three versions of the truth, pick one” thing doesn’t work for me. I see what Ryder-Hanrahan is doing. I even praised the similar approach used by Kenneth Hite in the core Trail of Cthulhu rulebook to present the Mythos entities as a catalog of mysterious possibilities instead of an encyclopedia of cemented facts. The problem is that when you apply the same technique to specific setting material, the setting material stops being specific and the tack-on problems become significant.

To start with, I’d rather have two or three times as many cool things, instead of having a handful of things which could be cool in three or four or five different ways. But the bigger problem is how this lack of specificity turns everything into mush. For example, consider Aileen Whitney: “Whitney’s father is a wealthy businessman. A member of the city council visited the family home in Old Arkham one night to discuss a proposal with her father, and Whitney overheard the terrible thing they plotted together.” Which city councilor? It can’t say, because the book doesn’t know which councilors will be cultists. What terrible thing? It never explains, because any explanation would force some other quantum uncertainty in the book to resolve itself.

As a result, the book is filled to the brim with these half-formed ideas. It makes for a very mysterious and enigmatic reading experience as you pour through the tome from one cover to the other. But the problem, for me at least, is that these half-formed ideas just… aren’t very useful.

If you said to someone, “Hey, I need an idea for a scenario this week?” and they responded by saying, “You could have an NPC tell the PCs that they heard somebody plotting something horrible!” would you consider that particularly useful? I wouldn’t. Useful would be the actual thing they heard; the meaningful meat that would serve as the scenario concept.

What we’re left with instead are hooks to vapor.

POOR ORGANIZATION

The other major problem with Cthulhu City is its poor organization.

The bulk of the book is made up of the “City Guide”, which is broken into sub-sections each describing one of the city’s ten districts. Virtually everything in the book — NPCs, locations, etc. — is grouped into these districts, but the district you’re currently in isn’t indicated by the page header, so as you’re flipping through the book it’s impossible to orient yourself. Worse yet, the districts are presented in a completely random order.

The book contains no general index (a major failing), but does include a couple of appendixes, one of which lists which NPCs and locations can be found in each location. This helps a bit, but there’s not really any logic to where the NPCs are listed (particularly generic NPCs): Sometimes they’re listed where they live; sometimes where they work; sometimes it seems as if they were just placed in a district that was otherwise a little light on generic NPCs.

Information is also just kind of randomly scattered around, without any cross-referencing. For example, on p. 126 the NPC description of Mayor Ward notes that, “A portrait of Ward hangs next to one of Curwen in the foyer of City Hall (p. 119); the resemblance is uncanny.” The page reference to City Hall is useful, obviously, but the problem is that neither the foyer nor the painting is mentioned in the description of City Hall. (It’s possible that the “foyer” here is a reference to the “Main Rotunda” in the City Hall description, but if so that’s just another example of the book’s inconsistencies.) So if the PCs go to City Hall and you look up its description, you’ll never include the Ward and Curwen portraits.

The book is peppered with this sort of thing. Reading through it, I was constantly noting really cool details that I was confident would never make it into actually play unless I took the effort to work my way through the entire book and carefully annotate it.

Which, collectively, is the primary problem with Cthulhu City: Between the “choose your own setting” vagueries, the tack-on problem of frequently needing to do the bulk of the work to complete the vaguery, and the need to reorganize a large portion of the book so that it doesn’t go to waste, you end up saddling the GM with a workload roughly equivalent to writing the book in the first place.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

It’s also a shame that the illustrations in the book are so uniformly poor in quality: Boring compositions, atrocious anatomy, stiff poses, and crude in their overall execution. Another problem is that so many of the pieces appear to be (badly) attempting an “evocative” effect, which in practice means that they’re virtually always directly contradicting the description of the city given in the text. (Even the cover, which is gorgeous and, like so many of Jerome Huguenin’s paintings for Pelgrane, perfectly sets a mood, suffers from this problem by depicting a vision of the city which does not reflect that presented by the book.)

Cthulhu City is such a unique and unusual vision of the Mythos. It would have benefited greatly from a well-executed visual component.

The book also features an 18 page scenario. It’s a very good scenario, but one that is curiously unconnected with Cthulhu City. A few place names are dropped, of course, but these are all of a generic character and you could easily drop this scenario into literally any location without any effort at all. This is most likely an additional consequence of the “choose your own city” design of the book (a scenario would necessarily need to deal with specifics, and therefore it cannot interface with any of the characters, organizations, or locations described in the book without locking them into one form or another), but it’s another missed opportunity to provide the GM with clear direction.

(But, to reiterate, it’s a very good scenario: Clever, horrific, and almost certain to be incredibly memorable. If nothing else from Cthulhu City ever reaches my table, this scenario certainly will.)

Also: Maps without keys. Drives me nuts.

CONCLUSION

I’ve spent a large number of words discussing what holds this book back from greatness. But I don’t want that to necessarily detract from the fact that the book is very good. When I say that it’s brimming with ideas, features a fantastic scenario, and positively sizzles with a uniqueness which is all the more remarkable because it is enhanced by the well-worn elements which somehow add up to a whole so much larger than the sum of its parts… all of that is true.

And all of it is a very good argument for why you should immediately buy a copy and start devouring its contents as quickly as possible.

But…

I am, personally, held back from giving Cthulhu City my full-throated endorsement because, at the end of the day, I recognize that the book’s flaws add up to a sufficiently bulky workload that I will almost certainly never actually use any of it.

Which, ultimately, is enough for me to drop the Substance score by a full point and, with a heavy heart, slide the book onto my shelf to collect dust.

Style: 3
Substance: 3

Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
Print Cost: $34.95
PDF Cost: $20.95
Page Count: 222
ISBN: 978-1-908983-76-3

 

Trail of Cthulhu and hte King in Yellow

Shut Up & Sit Down have published a review of Trail of Cthulhu based, in part, on the reviewer playing in my current Eternal Lies campaign.

MILD SPOILERS FOR ETERNAL LIES

Those of you who have been following the Alexandrian for awhile will remember that back in 2015 I prepped the Alexandrian Remix of the epic Eternal Lies campaign by Jeff Tidball, Will Hindmarch, and Jeremy Keller. I am now running the campaign for a second time for a new group, including a co-GM who played in the original run of the campaign.

This run of the campaign has seen several tweaks and improvements to the Remix, including (as highlighted in the SUSD review) a full-scale model of a graveyard built in my backyard:

Eternal Lies - Graveyard

It also contains highlights of several of the dioramas I prepped for the campaign, such as this one from Los Angeles:

Eternal Lies - Los Angeles Diorama

It’s likely that I’ll be sharing my fully-tweaked version of the Remix at some point in the future, either here on the Alexandrian or over on Yog-Sothoth.com.

But, for now, check out the review.

Go to Eternal Lies: The Alexandrian Remix

Eternal Lies - After Action Report

End of the road.

The final count for the Alexandrian Remix of Eternal Lies is:

  • 300+ props
  • 150+ diorama elements
  • 450+ pages
  • 130,000+ words

In many ways, this is a campaign that grew out of control. I was wildly over-ambitious in my approach and the result was a lot of stress when it came time to close the deal down the stretch. But the final result was an incredibly intense experience. I doubt that I will ever attempt to run another campaign quite like this one, but I’m glad to have had the experience. And I’m happy to share the experience with you.

THE ORIGINAL PITCH

SETTING: Mormo was invoked in 1924. Cthulhu briefly awoke in 1925. The federal government raided Innsmouth in 1927. Yog-Sothoth nearly broke through the barriers in Dunwich in 1928. This game is about the decade after that. When things got worse.

If you’re familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos, then you’ve got a pretty good idea what’s going on. If you’re not then I recommend checking out these stories:

  • “The Call of Cthulhu”
  • “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”
  • “The Dunwich Horror”
  • At the Mountains of Madness

(The last of these is a short novel, but the other three make for quick reading.)

CHARACTERS: You are investigators. As the campaign begins you may or may not be previously aware of the Mythos, but you ARE renowned for your investigating and/or problem-solving abilities. That might just be a quiet reputation among the sort of people who really count; it might be a local renown like that enjoyed by the Great Detective; or it might be the national renown of an Eliot Ness.

On a meta level, it’s important to remember the “investigate” part of your name. When faced with the horrific unknown your response isn’t to run away and pray to your broken gods; it’s to solve the mystery. Your Drive will help you with that.

MY PLAY-THRU

I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive overview of everything that happened in my play-thru of the campaign, but I have had several requests from people who have been interested in how it played out.

The total playing time was 95 hours, split over 22 sessions.

NEW YORK: The PCs made a point of conducting a very thorough investigation in New York before leaving town. They discovered leads that pointed in the direction of Los Angeles, but they decided it still made sense to check out Doug Henslowe in Savannah first.

SAVANNAH: The investigation in Savannah proceeded basically in the way that you would expect. As they were getting ready to leave town, the thugs from Bangkok drove out onto the tarmac and started firing guns at them. They rushed up the passenger stairs, returning gunfire over their shoulders, as the plane began taxiing down the runway.

LOS ANGELES: Here’s where things took a sharp left turn. The PCs poked around Los Angeles long enough to figure out that George Ayers had mounted an expedition to Ethiopia in 1924. They also learned that the old cult was tangled up with hardened gangsters. After learning that some of the gangsters were living at Trammel’s mansion, they decided the mansion was too tough a nut to crack and they left without investigating it. (This meant that the only clue they had was the one taking them to Ethiopia.)

ETHIOPIA: Ethiopia is, in the original campaign, a dead-end in terms of investigating the cult. (You learn a lot of useful information, but because the cult hasn’t been active there for a decade there are no additional leads pointing at new cult activity.) This is why, in the remix, the Emporium of Bangkok Antiquities is active in the region (so that clues will point back in the direction of Bangkok). The PCs got tangled with the Emporium around the Obelisk of Axum and then backtracked to the Danakil Desert.

One of the really great things that happened in our play-thru was the roleplaying around the question of violence: The group started out mostly as innocents with a couple of World War I veterans who had no interest in revisiting the horrors of their past. As they left Dallol, however, they were pursued by Afar fanatics as they sought Ayers. At the instigation of one of the World War I vets, they reluctantly agreed to ambush their pursuers. Once violence broke out, however, Robert (the character who had pushed for the ambush) failed his Stability check, prompting a violent rejection of the murders they had just committed. This caused severe tensions as the rest of the group, who had felt pressured into the conflict, were suddenly whiplashed by Robert’s change of heart.

Fortunately, in the Dream-Scourged Halls where George Ayers awaited them, the group had a time of respite in which tempers could cool.

Over the course of the rest of the campaign, this initial conflict would slowly develop and resolve in response to the horrible things they witnessed (and the horrible things they needed to prevent) until, quite naturally, the group found itself armed with machine guns and explosives. Watching them slowly harden in the face of the burdens they were forced to bear was a really fascinating (and powerful) bit of roleplaying.

SEVERN VALLEY: At this point, the Emporium of Bangkok Antiquities was the only real face they had for the cult. And their animosity for the Emporium was heightened after they discovered that one of their allies in Eritrea had been killed by them. As a result, they pursued the Emporium to the Severn Valley in England (which they had learned was the site of their next expedition).

Midway through the Severn Valley, however, the campaign was put on a lengthy hiatus for several months. The over-ambitious nature of what I had been attempting had caught up with me and combined with several scheduling delays that had pushed the campaign into conflict with several other major projects. During the hiatus, however, I was able to prepare material at a slightly more relaxed pace. What forced the campaign out of hiatus, however, was that one of the original players was leaving town: Rather than leave the campaign unfinished, we decided to bring it back for a series of marathon sessions in June. (This eventually culminated in a run where we played 8 out of 10 days.)

The Severn Valley wrapped up with several of the PCs badly traumatized for the first time: One of the PCs had raised the ire of the Faceless Sentinels on the Isle Beyond Severnford. Most of the group fled with her back to London in order to escape the Sentinels, but the two World War I vets remained behind to check out the Church on High Street in Temphill… and what they found under the Church left them badly shaken.

At this point, however, Alice — a cop from Chicago — had yet to see a single supernatural thing. Mostly by chance she had chosen a path which seemed to always leave her with the part of the group that was experiencing mundanity. At times, the others had tried to impress upon her what they had witnessed, but she (at least partly in active denial) considered them to simply be hallucinating from the horrible stresses they had all been placed under.

BANGKOK: The PCs left England and pursued the Emporium to Bangkok. This was an interesting location because there’s a kind of baseline assumption here that the cultists are probably aware that someone is messing with their business. But for our play-thru this wasn’t the case: The cultists knew that somebody had been talking to Douglas Henslowe. A largely different subset of PCs had interacted with the Emporium in Axum under a convincing cover story that placed them nowhere near Savannah. And… that was it. They were midway through the campaign at this point, and they’d largely glided over the cult’s radar.

As a result, in Bangkok the PCs were successful in tracking Savitree to Ko Kruk Island before anybody really knew that they were in town. Rather than getting thrown into pits and hunted across the island, therefore, they ended up playing cat-and-mouse with Savitree in the ruins of her family’s mansion. This sequence was massively successful: Alice, who still hadn’t seen anything incontrovertibly supernatural, got sliced with a nectar-tipped spear. Which meant that her first real confrontation with the Mythos was having a Mouth grow on her arm.

When we wrapped up that session, the PCs were getting ready to loot Savitree’s library and then leave town, pursuing leads for Malta. This would have had the interesting consequence of carrying them even further into the campaign without knowing about the existence of Major Mouths or realizing what the true source of Nectar was. I was kind of fascinated by what that trajectory through the campaign would have looked like, but by the time we reconvened the following night they had decided to reverse course and check out the Phikhat Hwan death-fights after all. (This ended with them shooting Xuc Pramoj through the head just before blowing up the Major Mouth.)

MALTA: Much like Trammel’s mansion, the PCs did not like the look of the heavily fortified warehouse in Malta. As a result, this section of the campaign was largely about stalking Montgomery Donovan. This was also the site of their first major firefight: After blowing up the Major Mouth in Bangkok, they concluded that they needed more explosives and more guns. So they’d smuggled huge quantities of dynamite and several machine guns into Valletta (and put them to good use shortly thereafter).

Before the PCs had arrived in Malta, I had murdered a Source of Stability for one of the PCs: Her beloved horse Butterscotch. (The players never forgave me.) The PC was able to rescue both Monte and Alexi from the hospital, however, and they became, collectively, a new Source of Stability for her.

The other thing of note in Malta is that Sir Godfrey Welles never actually showed up. Because of how the PCs tackled the locale, he was never able to spot them until they were already blowing up the warehouse and fleeing town.

RETURN TO LOS ANGELES: They were now fairly certain that there was a Major Mouth beneath Trammel’s mansion in Los Angeles. And they were resolved to destroy it.

They were able to use Donovan’s blackmail material (recovered from Malta) to coerce several LAPD cops to flip on Trammel and lead a raid on the mansion with them. This went very well. (For the PCs, any way. Two of the cops were killed when Walker blew up their car with a grenade.) The sequence became particularly memorable, however, because the mouth on Alice’s arm (which had been causing problems for weeks) finally went hyperactive during the raid: There’s a linen closet in the mansion that contains a minor mouth. Alice opened it while she was completely alone: The long, prehensile tongue on her own arm initiated a disgusting, groping French kiss with the similarly grotesque tongue of the mouth inside the closet. Things went downhill from there. The other PCs managed to get into a car and drive away from the mansion before finally being forced to amputate her arm. Moments after the frantic, horrible, bloody field amputation was completed, the mansion exploded behind them.

MEXICO CITY: Mission completed. Time to get out of the country. Mexico City largely played out by-the book: Effective and disturbing, with a lot of really nice small roleplaying moments. But in pretty much the sequence you would expect based on reading over the material.

YUCATAN: Similarly, the Yucatan largely proceeded as one might expect. They ended up hiring two of the available guides (which provided ample opportunities for interesting interactions), while one of the dilettantes earned the inexplicable enmity of the third guide (who was also the cultist trying to kill them). Also memorable was the sequence just after they arrived at Chichen Xoxul: They would attempt to set up camp at a location, discover that it was horrible, and move to a different site to set up camp… which they would discover was horrible for some completely different reason.

THIBET: Upon arriving in Thibet, the PCs decided to attempt a risky landing without a runway in order to cut down on their travel time to Mt. Kailash. They ascended the mountain without great incident, but had a great deal of difficulty descending into the ravine. (They initially planned to descend one at a time for safety’s sake, but the first investigator only got down about halfway before being forced back by the terrifying things in the ravine.) In the end, they coordinated a massive explosion with a simultaneous summoning of Gol-Goroth to deal with the Liar. Wini, who had sacrificed her own sanity to master the mind-rending arts of sorcery the campaign demanded of the group, took one of the bricks from Chichen Xoxul, carved an Elder Sign into it, and left it lodged in the white snows of Mt. Kailash.

THE END: I’ve already discussed how their progression through the rest of the finale went. In the final scene, Robert — much to the horror of the other PCs — volunteered to accompany Jobs to the planet seen in The Gazer’s Perspective.

THOUGHTS FOR THE FUTURE

This will almost certainly not be the last time I run this campaign: Partly to recoup the time I’ve already sunk into prepping it. Partly because there’s a high demand from the other players I’ve developed relationships with through my open table. Partly because it’s a really great campaign. But mostly because I’m really curious to see what happens next time.

When I return to Eternal Lies, however, there are a few things I’ll be changing or adding to the campaign. It’ll be awhile before I make any of this a reality, but in the meantime you might think about doing these for your own campaign:

  • I would strongly recommend adapting the Sources of Stability rules from Night’s Black Agents. They’re much more appropriate for the type of globe-hopping campaign you see in Eternal Lies. (It’s very difficult to connive for the PCs to get back home to their Sources of Stability between locations. This was particularly exacerbated in our play-thru because we embraced the global nature of the campaign and the PCs came from all across the globe. It might be a little bit easier if everyone came from the same hometown.) I’ve been playing with the idea of creating a hybrid system (in which characters would still have multiple NPC Sources of Stability, possibly scattered across the world for easier access and rich epistolary opportunities, while still including Symbols and Safeties), but I haven’t really hammered out the details.
  • I’m planning to prep hotels for each of the locations. Probably aiming for three: A low, middle, and high class location. (I only figured out that this would be useful at the point where the campaign was already winding down.)
  • I want to go back and add explosive charge guidelines for destroying each Major Mouth. My primary goal here is to establish the idea of thinking about explosives in terms of abstract “charges” that also need to be dealt with logistically, so that by the time you get to Thibet the PCs will (a) have a general sense of how much explosive power they need and (b) an established relationship with the mechanics involved in lugging them around the landscape. (Might be interesting to supplement the “lugging them around” guidelines with stealth guidelines for metropolitan areas.)
  • Finally, I’m probably going to revise Savitree’s notes on the Mt. Kailash expedition so that the Emporium of Bangkok Antiquities don’t actually make it up onto the peak. (They get chased off by pilgrims, which would force them to acquire their magnetic scanning equipment to take whatever remote readings they could.) My primary motivation here is to preserve the image of the PCs being the first ones to ever reach the top of Mt. Kailash. (I only consciously realized this was a meaningful concern when my players got up there, got excited about the idea of being the first people to ever be up there, and then remembered that the Emporium had beaten them to the punch. Which was a funny moment, but I think it’s more powerful to leave that achievement for the PCs. This remains true even if the players don’t immediately think of it, because then you can drop that image on them during the Triumph Atop Mt. Kailash sequence after the Liar has been destroyed.)

I also have a personal goal of making better use of the Eternal Lies Soundtrack Suite by preparing a more robust selection of playlists and probably adding more specific cuing prompts to my prep notes.

But that’s for another day.

If you’ve run the campaign (particularly if you’re running it with these remix notes), I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments! And don’t forget to join us over on Yog-Sothoth and the G+ community for Eternal Lies GMs.

FIN.

Eternal Lies - Pelgrane Press

Go to Eternal Lies: The Alexandrian Remix

Eternal Lies - Campaign Overview

Campaign Overview PDF

The Campaign Overview for the Alexandrian Remix originated as a planning document and now serves as a general reference document for the GM.

LOCALE CLUES: Each locale in the campaign has its own internal structure of nodes linked by clues. The campaign also has a macro-structure, however, which links the various locales together. I find it’s easiest to separate these structures, tracking the macro-clues that are integrated into the various locales separately from the clues that move you around the locale itself. This reference sheet summarizes all of the macro-clues that lead from one locale to another.

CAMPAIGN CLUES – THIBET REVELATION: As discussed in the introduction to the Alexandrian Remix, there is an additional meta-mystery that requires the PCs to piece together clues from multiple locations in order to figure out their final destination. Whereas the locale clues are independent (you can pick up any of the clues that point to Malta, for example, and use it to get to Malta), in order to reach Thibet you need to have three separate pieces of information. Following the Three Clue Rule, there are three clues pointing to each of these pieces of information. This reference sheet summarizes them.

CAMPAIGN CLUES – DESTROYING THE MAW: Another key revelation for the campaign is how you can destroy the Maw of the Mouth. This reference sheet summarizes teh methods and how they can be obtained.

CAMPAIGN CLUES – FINAL RITUAL: When the PCs reach the end of the campaign, they’re going to need several key pieces of information in order to solve the problem. This reference sheet summarizes where they can gain those pieces of information (once again following the principles of redundancy laid out in the Three Clue Rule).

CAMPAIGN CLUES – APOCALYPSE: As with the Thibet Revelation, the information for realizing what’s happening at the end of the campaign is spread throughout the campaign.

CAMPAIGN CLUES – IDENTITY OF THE LIAR: This sheet is complicated by the fact that there are several red herrings in the campaign pointing the PCs towards false identities. This discovery requires a two-step revelation: First, the PCs must realize that the Liar is the Prisoner of Glaaki. Second, they have to figure out who the Prisoner of Glaaki is.

REFERENCE – WHO BELIEVES WHAT: In large part because the Liar is obfuscating his identity, it can get a little confusing about what the various NPCs know and believe about it. This reference sheet summarizes what the 1924 Cultists, the 1924 Inner Circle, the 1934 Cult, and the various cult leaders all currently believe.

REFERENCE – 1924: This summarizes all the known facts about what happened in 1924, including the known members of the cult, Walter Winston’s investigators, and what happened on the night of August 13th, 1924.

REFERENCE – MINOR MOUTHS / MAJOR MOUTHS: All of the stats for the Mouths summarized on a single sheet for easy reference.

REFERENCE – NECTAR: All the rules for researching or consuming Nectar.

REFERENCE – TRAVEL TIMES: A hodgepodge reference using real world figures for transcontinental travel in the 1930s. You should be able to interpolate from this data to come up with relatively accurate travel times for any locations the PCs might decide to hare off to.

SUGGESTED READING

The PDF also includes a recommended reading list for familiarizing yourself more intimately with the various Mythos elements that the Eternal Lies campaign is based around (including my additions to the campaign). This list primarily revolves around the lore of Gol-Goroth and the tales of the Severn Valley (including, most importantly, the Revelations of Glaaki). However, there are a few additional stories included here (mostly because their material appears in the various Mythos tomes found in Echavarria’s library and Savitree’s research).

Robert E. Howard
“The Black Stone”
“The Children of the Night”
“The People in the Dark”
“The Gods of Bal-Sagoth”
“The Thing on the Roof”
“Worms of the Earth”

Ramsey Campbell
“The Inhabitant of the Lake”
“The Stone on the Island”
“The Church in High Street”
“Cold Print”
“The Room in the Castle”
“The Render of the Veils”
“The Plain of Sound”
The Last Revelation of Gla’aki

H.P. Lovecraft
“The Shadow Out of Time”

David Drake
“Than Curse the Darkness”

Lin Carter
“The Fishers From Beyond”

Chaosium Cthulhu Scenarios
Masks of Nyarlathotep
No Man’s Land

The Chaosium scenarios are strictly non-essential, but there are oblique references to No Man’s Land in some of the lore books (largely because one of my players created a PC who used the scenario as part of his back story). And Masks of Nyarlathotep, unsurprisingly, serves as the fountainhead for several key pieces of lore regarding the Black Pharaoh (among others).

Go to 1.0 Maps and Campaign Props

Eternal Lies – The End

July 17th, 2015

Go to Eternal Lies: The Alexandrian Remix

Eternal Lies - Apocalypse

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SPOILER WARNING

Eternal Lies is a truly amazing campaign. When it comes to spoilers, however, it is remarkably fragile. Two words, in particular, can really ruin the whole experience: One is the true name of the Liar. The other is the actual title of the final chapter.

I’ve done my best, even while sharing my notes for remixing the campaign, to NOT use those words in these semi-public posts. (Or, at least, not use them in a context that would reveal their significance.) However, now I need to discuss running the finale of the campaign and that necessarily carries with it the need to get a little riskier. The best I can do is to simply add another ablative layer of spoiler warnings.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

Seriously. If you’ve landed on this page and you’re not 100% sure you want the Eternal Lies campaign spoiled for yourself, you should really stop reading.

Okay, that’s the best I can do.

(For similar reasons, I didn’t label the final set of my notes in my binder for the campaign in order to minimize the risk of my players accidentally seeing the title.)

SEQUENCE 1

The most important part of this sequence, in my opinion, is the beginning: Triumph Atop Mt. Kailash. The players may have some nagging doubts about the vision they just received, but it’s really important that they also feel a legitimate sense of having won.

Towards that end, I’ve added an actual mechanical reward here to emphasize the moment.

Once you’ve built them up (and, just as importantly, let them build themselves up and celebrate), you’re ready to start revealing the growing horror of what’s happening around them.

SEQUENCE 2

I’ve discussed the general theory behind this sequence in my introduction to the remix. The idea is that there are four thematic concepts that make up the REVELATION:

  • Great power requires great sacrifices
  • Edgar Job played a key role in Echavarria’s ritual
  • Echavarria’s ritual had two layers
  • Azathoth was the true focus of Echavarria’s interest

The specific details listed in these remix notes are specific to my PCs. They reflect the events that (a) actually happened in our play-thru of the campaign and (b) which seemed to have particular resonance for my players. For your campaign, you’ll want to similarly construct a personalized Revelation.

The timing of using the Revelation is more of an art than a science: With the additional data point of the Liar’s final vision (plus the horrible things happening around them), it’s not impossible for the players to figure out what’s happening. (Particularly if they’ve asked certain questions of Gol-Goroth or if they’ve paid particular attention to certain volumes in Echavarria’s library.)

When this happens also depends on exactly when your players start falling into a serious discussion about what they’re seeing and what they think happened. My players started that midway down their descent of the mountain. Other groups might get all the way to Darchen or even Burang before they start trying to figure it out. My suggestion is that you want to hold off on pushing for the Cthulhu Mythos spend until after they’ve realized that the problem is global in scope. (In other words, let all the Mythos stability checks in Sequence 1 play out.) Once that’s happened, play it by ear and then tell them the Cthulhu Mythos spend is both available and, if they can’t figure it out on their own, required.

(If they proactively ask for the Cthulhu Mythos spend, of course, you can just go with it whenever they request it.)

SEQUENCE 3

In order for the Apocalypse to be effective, I believe that it has to be personal.

As a result, the Scenes from the Apocalypse that you’ll find in my remix notes are, once again, very specific to my PCs and the things that they had experienced up until this point:

  • Ulysses had a close encounter with a Hound of Tindalos in the original back story for his character. It made sense to bring that full circle as the barriers between dimensions collapsed. Robert’s visitation from the dead was a similar callback. (You might consider looking back at the original character backgrounds to find elements for use in your apocalypse.)
  • The PCs had rescued Monte and Alexi from Malta and taken them to Paris to be cared for by a Source of Stability. (Monte’s cure as a result of destroying the Liar was also a good way to remind them that defeating the Liar had been a triumph, even if its unintended consequences were horrific.)
  • One of the PCs was from Chicago and had a Source of Stability there. (This kind of remote news that they can’t really do anything about is a good way of emphasizing how widespread and catastrophic things are.)
  • The PCs had gotten Janet Winston-Rogers to set up a safehouse for loved ones who had been threatened by the cult.
  • The death of Frank Kearns was a good opportunity to emphasize the emotional trauma being suffered by civilians in the setting. It also makes the death and destruction personal.

(In actual practice, these elements played out in delightfully unexpected ways: The PCs reached Paris. They learned that the boys had been evacuated to England and that Chicago was burning. They were chased back to their plane by a cannibalistic mob. Deciding that time was running out, they bit the bullet and used the Create Hyperspace Gate spell to jump directly to Savannah. As they left, however, they told Frank Kearns that they needed him to get their plane safely back to New York and check on their loved ones… which gave him enough sense of purpose to avoid giving into despair before they had managed to save the world.)

The published campaign has an interesting grab-bag of apocalyptic imagery (some of which I summarized at the beginning of this sequence of this remix as a grab bag from which I could improvise additional and/or alternative scenes if the PCs took a radically different route than I was anticipating).

SEQUENCE 4 & FINALE

As I noted above, my PCs used the Create Hyperspace Gate spell to go directly to Savannah. I decided that the dimensional disruption around Edgar Job would force them to appear on the outskirts of town so that the Into Savannah sequence would still play out. It may not be entirely clear from my notes, but the asynchronous appearances of the Feral Child in this sequence are meant to be intermixed around the other moments.

EPILOGUE

As a final note, the epilogue of the campaign — with its cycle of three questions for each player — is brilliantly conceived and provided a note-perfect conclusion to an immersive and emotionally-wrenching campaign.

Eternal Lies - Chicago Burns

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