PLEASE NOTE: This review by necessity contains a lot of spoilers.
You might have heard of the phrase “Mythos Hoedown.” It’s used to denote a situation in which Mythos beings, rather than being cast as uniquely frightening creatures, are used collectively without rhyme or reason as to why they are all in the scenario. Hillgrove Horror, the first scenario in this collection, features a Mythos Hoedown. The opening paragraph references a Shub-Niggurath cult, Mi-go, and ghouls.
To be fair, in the early days of Call of Cthulhu Mythos beasts were treated like D&D monsters and it wouldn’t be unusual to find them all jumbled together. Hillgrove Horror features no less than six dark young, which weren’t nearly as deadly in the old days as they are now. The scenario also features an insidious communicable disease that is quite frightening. Still, if you’re not fond of too many Mythos beings in one scenario, this one’s not for you. Two out of five.
Rolthin Abbey takes an entirely different tack, being an open-ended description of a serpent man cult. The cult hides behind a new age spa dedicated to screening the genetic compatibility of certain humans and “ascending” them into serpent people. It’s useful for a modern era game, as some of the ideas about genetics and health are decidedly modern. Useful stuff, but it could use more narrative to give busy Keepers advice as how to use the scenario. Four out of five.
The Moon of the Hunger scenario actually begins with statistic blocks for its villains on page 54, before the scenario proper on page 51. It features an eye-bleeding full page of introductory text that ends with no call to action. Two pages later the mission is explained: retrieve a ring. This ring allows Eman the mad sorcerer to enter the waking world from the Dreamlands. He takes on the form of the Hunter and his hounds, which is something of a cliché. The investigators have to find the ring and sever the connection before the Hunter catches up with them. For a Dark Ages scenario it seems surprisingly lethal – there’s no dynamite or shotguns here. Three out of five.
A Woodland Tale takes place during the English Civil War. It involves a sorcerer, a monstrous wood, and a hot blonde corpse named Martha who tries to seduce the investigators. The entire scenario hinges on the success of a dubious seduction – Martha’s tactic is to drop her nightgown and slip into bed next to the investigator. This is simply poor plotting; if the investigator role-plays his character (who, as the scenario states, “has been in the field for a long time”) he shouldn’t hesitate. But suspicious players should, because no good comes from easy women in role-playing games. Worse, the Keeper has the option of simply having the investigator make a POW roll against Martha’s APP. A successful seduction means death. This is the ONLY way the villain gets his power, and if investigators are subdued “they will be trussed up so they cannot resist and Martha will force herself on them.” Raped, in other words. One out of five.
Returning to the King takes place in the 60s and has nothing to do with the King in Yellow. It does have to do with a fantasy-obsessed geek named Oswald who is drawn into the Dreamlands in his quest to find King Arthur. He comes under the wing of sorcerer Mhae-Yrn (Merlin, get it?) who follows him back to our world with a rock guitar and a plan to summon Yog-Sothoth through rock music. If this scenario was set ten years later Oswald could easily be a Dungeons & Dragons gamer. In fact, this scenario is quite similar to the Cthulhu Now classic scenario The Evil Stars, which took place in the 80s, complete with dangerous roadies and otherworldly rock music. That doesn’t diminish the fun though. Five out of five stars.
The investigators take on the role of a Chinese Tong in pursuit of Genghis Khan’s stone horse. Why? The scenario doesn’t really explain other than that Tong boss Rong (that’s Rong the Tong, if you’re paying attention) believing that “it will help him consolidate all the Tongs in Peking under his leadership.” Uh, okay. So the Tong are off on a cross-country journey to find an ancient temple. Along the way they meet a witch, ghouls, and British officers. Within the temple is a new Lesser God, Aiueb Gnshal, who has a really interesting ritual that involves animated skins…and unfortunately has little to do with the scenario. Still, this is a fun, interesting scenario if a little sparse in places. Four out of five.
Overall, this is a surprisingly uneven collection. Some of the other scenarios are obviously meant as one-shots due to the unique investigator backgrounds or the high likelihood of death. Of all the scenarios, Rolthin Abbey is the easiest to use out of the box, and Returning to the King is certainly the most innovative.