Tabletop Review: Cthulhu Britannica

Cthulhu Britannica
Publisher: Cubicle 7
Page Count: 162
Release Date: 10/10/2009
Cost: $29.95 ($19.99 at DriveThru RPG)
Get it Here: DriveThru RPG

Cthulhu Britannica is the first of three Call of Cthulhu products by Cubicle 7 that are set in the United Kingdom. Although most products that uses Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu have adventures set in New England, my favorite ones have always been set in Europe, such as Cthulhu by Gaslight or Horror on the Orient Express. I was given review copies of all three of Cubicle 7’s Cthulhu Britannica line, but it makes sense to start with the first even if it’s nearly two years old.

Cthulhu Britannica contains five adventures: one set in Victorian England, one in the 1930s, two in modern times and finally one in the far(?) future. Each adventure is dramatically different from the last and aside from the first one, they can easily be retooled to being set elsewhere, like the States. Of course, why you would purchase Cthulhu Britannica and use the adventures for a States-based game is beyond me.

“Bad Company” is the first scenario and it is my favorite. It takes place in Victorian times and although it doesn’t involve any direct use of the typical Mythos trappings, it’s very well done. Unlike a lot of Gaslight-era scenarios, class, culture, gossip and scandal are the focal points of the adventure. Most published scenarios and GMs tend to forget the huge divides between classes during this time and how the slightest bit of gossip could shift one’s reputation notably. The adventure revolves around a wealthy nobleman’s son descent into debauchery and the need for the Investigators (player characters for those not hip to CoC terminology) to be discreet as they search into the whereabouts of young Mr. Sommers. Of course the twist is that while the interest in…gasp THEATRE FOLK is legitimately mundane, his dalliance with Madame Onlenia Byragan is very Lovecraftian. Or least Bierthian. You see, Madam Byragan is an immortal being that subsists on her victim’s fear and pain. The Investigators need to track down the young man in discreet fashion while also dealing with their first encounter of Mythos creatures. The adventure has a motley cast of characters, from insane back alley abortionists to thin parodies of humanity made of straw. It’s a fun adventure from beginning to end and this adventure is the most Lovecraftian of the five.

“Darkness, Descending” is the 1930s era adventure. It takes place in a sleepy little hamlet/ village and it’s a nice mix of archaeology, Equinox based rituals, possession by inhuman monstrosities that defy human understanding, and a very small smattering of violence for those that need some of that in their RPGs. I will say this is a pretty hard adventure to complete unless the DM holds player hands throughout, but half the fun of Call of Cthulhu is seeing how horribly your characters die when they do. This adventure really is best suited for long time CoC players that know to ask about and look at every little detail provided by the GM. I enjoyed it for the slow descent into insanity that a major NPC engages in, along with the setting of quaint old Middle Harling. “Darkness, Descending” is an adventure that will test the mental acuity of your players as they try to figure out how to prevent a Great Old One from materializing on Earth and it’s adventures like these that made the Call of Cthulhu my setting of choice in my high school & college years.

“Wrong Turn” is a scenario set in modern times, somewhere between 2000-2010. When I first read the scenario, I liked it, even though I didn’t find it very Lovecraftian. It is very surreal and captures the concept of alien/unknown horror very well though, perhaps better than any of the other adventures in this book. This adventure takes place at a long abandoned radio telescope where a TV production company plans to film part of their new series at. Unfortunately this telescope and the surrounding research center known as the Lordsdown facility is not only in the middle of nowhere, but it’s also the remains of a failed government research product, the effects of which are still felt to this day. The location and the events that unfold are indeed creepy, but the entire adventure plays out like a 90s horror movie. Because the plot requires a LOT of death, some players will be unhappy that this scenario puts them in a situation where they literally cannot survive, much less win. Because of this it is important to play this adventure with people who prefer a good story and know this is a one-shot adventure going into it, than with people who feel a tabletop game is something that must be won. “Wrong Turn” really felt like John Carptenter’s “The Thing,” but in England instead of the Antarctic and cerebral instead of visceral. It’s a well done adventure and with the right group of players, this can be a bone-chilling experience. With just one players that wants to “win” however, this thing is a house of cards.

“King” is another adventure set in modern times and it’s the worst of the five in the set. Like “Wrong Turn,” this adventure is more akin to a horror movie than a Mythos tale, but it DOES pay lip service to Cthulhuian devices, such as the Tchos-Tchos and a Star Vampire. It’s very schlock-y horror film rather than Lovecraftian though. All the Investigators are kidnapped and have massive surgery done to them. The discover that their eyes have been altered so they can see in the dark along with invisible creatures to boot. This part is …okay but it should have ended there. There’s also a second operation performed on each character which is a huge spoiler, but without pulling words, it’s one of the stupidest and hokiest things I’ve ever seen in a Call of Cthulhu adventure and everyone I’ve run this with has groaned or said the exact same words. It’s like the episode of Freakzoid where the scariest thing in the world was if all the air in the world suddenly turned to wood. It might sound good in someone’s head, but to everyone else, it’s just lame. Factor in this doctor somehow managed to have a secret lab built in a major hospital, fly over an entire civilization of evil dwarves, hollowed them out a set of caverns beneath the hospital (all without anyone realizing or knowing) and performing countless surgeries on people who don’t have records in the hospital, and the entire adventure is less believable than a troupe of Dimensional Shamblers trying to bring back Vaudeville. This adventure is just plain bad from beginning to end.

Finally, we have “My Little Sister Wants You to Suffer.” This is another pretty bad adventure set in the near future. Your characters all awaken with amnesia aboard a spaceship and they have to piece themselves back together while dealing with mutants and damage to the ship which caused their early awakening from suspended animation. Again, this isn’t very Lovecraftian and the entire point of the adventure is to get players to fight amongst themselves more so than the monsters the ship contains and I’ve yet to meet any gamer or GM that actually has fun with adventures that play along those lines. They tend to piss everyone off in the end. Even worse is that the adventure has a “twist ending” right out of M. Night Shyamalan’s horrible movies and unfortunately the title of the adventure and the name of the computer pretty much give away the twist if you’re even remotely familiar with a certain genre of TV – specifically a show that originated in the UK and eventually made its way Stateside. I figured it out just from the title of the adventure and if it is that transparent to me, most gamers will find it so as well.

“My Little Sister” is just unsatisfactory on multiple levels. People wanting a Lovecraftian adventure will be disappointed. People who play CoC for the intellectual challenge (which are most of the fans of this system) will be disappointed. People who like working in teams instead of trying to “win” or compete with the other players, will be disappointed. I can’t think of too many gamers that would actually enjoy this adventure. Cthulhu knows I hated it.

So three adventures are really well done, and two are some of the worst published Call of Cthulhu adventures I’ve ever seen. That means I can give the product a mild approval, but there’s one other thing you need to know before we wrap this review up and which will more than likely turn most of you off purchasing this. ALL the adventures in Cthulhu Britannica are designed for pre-generated characters. This tends to be the kiss of death for a lot of adventures like these. Most gamers want to make their own characters and form an emotional connection with their creations. Now you CAN do that with Cthulhu Britannica, at least with the first two adventures. The modern era ones though are designed specifically to be one-shot experiences and to have grisly things happen to all the characters. The reason you use pre-generated characters in these is because you don’t want the players getting attached to the characters that the GM will purposely be trying to have torture, both mentally and physically. In these three adventures there is definitely a “GM Vs. Players” theme going on and in the very last it is “GM Vs. Player Vs. Player Vs. Player Vs. Etc.” and by making it clear these scenarios are one shots, your friends and fellow gamers won’t be AS ticked when you mark their characters for an insidious demise. They’re more likely to roll with it. Still, the vast majority of gamers tend to eschew adventures for pre-generated characters or one-shot adventures. That puts two strikes against most of the content in Cthulhu Britannica from the get-go. Don’t let this dissuade you though as again, the first two adventures can easily be the start of a Call of Cthulhu campaign and even the third can work with a good GM.

So with two of the five adventures being rubbish and all of them having the pre-generated character kiss of death, it is hard to recommend Cthulhu Britannica for purchase if you’re actually looking for a set of adventures for your campaign. However, it is a lot of fun to read, and for gamers like myself who purchase CoC product to read as much as they do to use, it’s a decent purchase. For $19.99 (or $29.99 for the physical copy), there are better Call of Cthulhu adventure sets out there – including other Cubicle 7 Cthulhu Britannica collections, as you will see in the coming days. Basically Cthulhu Britannica only gets better from here content and quality wise.

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