Tabletop Review: No Security: The Red Tower

No Security: The Red Tower
Publisher: Hebanon Games
Page Count: 22
Cost: FREE
Release Date: 07/27/2012
Get it Here: Hebanon Games

The Red Tower is the second offering from Hebanon Games’ No Security line of system-less horror RPG adventures set smack dab in the Great Depression. The No Security adventures are made free to the public thanks to 250 generous Kickstarter backers. I reviewed the first offering, Bryson Springs in late June and found it to be a nice compliment to the Call of Cthulhu adventure collection known as Children of the Storm, which is also set in the early 1930s. The Red Tower also fits nicely into a Children of the Storm campaign as it’s an even better and more twisted adventure than Bryson Springs. Not only was this adventure a blast to read and play through, but I also enjoyed the audio recording done by the Role Playing Public Radio Cast.

Now you may be wondering why I’m tying The Red Tower so tightly to a Call of Cthulhu campaign. Well, it’s not just that the two have compatible dates, times and themes. The Red Tower was originally written to be a Call of Cthulhu adventure, which you can not only hear from the podcast of the play, but it almost becomes instantly obvious as you read through the text of the adventure. All references to exact CoC gameplay mechanics are whitewashed, but with terminology and phrasing that strongly refers to things like Sanity Rolls, Persuade checks and the like. I know Caleb Stokes, creator of the scenarios, is trying really hard to go system-less with these, but unlike Bryson Springs, this adventure would read, flow and play a lot better if it had just stayed a Call of Cthulhu one. DMs/Storytellers/Keepers/Judges/etc that have never played a CoC game will have a bit of trouble trying to translate “PCs will feel ‘stressed'” into their campaign simply because it’s too vague a wording. DMs using Trail of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu, Shadows of Cthulhu and the like won’t have too much of a problem converting this adventure to their system of choice, but doing The Red Tower is something like Modern d20, Don’t Look Back, World of Darkness, Macabre Tales and the like will have a bit of trouble or be outright stymied by the conversion process. Again, I adore The Red Tower, but unlike Bryson Springs which works perfectly well as a systemless adventure, this particular offering’s roots in CoC are both too obvious and too strong for it to not to use Chaosium’s mechanics.

It’s 1931 and even the Windy City isn’t immune to the effects of the Dust Bowl. Illicit trades such as racketeering, gambling, bootlegging and more are also hit by the Depression. In Chicago, the mob is still a jumbled up mess due to the arrest of Al Capone for tax evasion and the hole created by his absence as yet to be filled, although several have tried. At the same time, the government is in overdrive with both the Bureau of Investigations and the FDA flexing their muscles on various industries to shake out the corrupt and inept alike. Meanwhile the power of both unions and socialists are growing in larger cities, although both are often at odds with each other. So how do all of these things tie together into one creepy adventure? The surprise answer is – the meat packing industry. All of the aforementioned players want a piece of the action. The mob wants to reassert control over it, the unions and socialists want to guide the workers in this industry (often undereducated, illiterate and immigrants) toward their way of thinking. The Bureau of Investigation wants to squeeze the last bits of mob control out of it, and the FDA wants to tighten regulations on it to prevent another Upton Sinclair style expose.

In The Red Tower, player characters will more than likely come from one of the above four factions, which means they’ll be butting heads with each other for much of the adventure. This is actually the point of The Red Tower. Generally when PCs begin infighting, it signals a disastrous adventure that can often lead to hurt feelings amongst the actual player. With The Red Tower, the theme is “How long will diametrically opposed factions keep fighting in the face of imminent doom and certain disaster.” Modern-era Republicans and Democrats should take note. As PCs play through The Red Tower, they’ll discover a horror within the meat-packing industry that is far worse than diseased cattle or an e. coli breakout. The question then becomes how do the players deal with their discovery and whether or not they can put aside their ideological differences to defeat a menace that has slowly been growing all around them for decades.

The Red Tower, like all truly good Call of Cthulhu style adventures, offers a slight chance at a “happy” ending, but more than likely one or more PCs will have to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop the horror that lurks in the heart of the meatpacking district. There are several ways to “beat” the adventure but they can range from full scale demolition of a large urban area to defeating the evil by BECOMING IT. Which of course, doesn’t really solve anything as much as it does change the focus. Players will have to do a great deal of investigating to get the full story of The Red Tower as well as deal with an entire race of horrific creatures with an unholy appetite. Perhaps more horrible still is the fact that the greatest evil in The Red Tower is human born and bred.

The adventure is wonderfully laid out for the Keeper to run, right down to an easy to read flowchart highlighting all the possible ways the scenes in The Red Tower can unfold. The entire affair is mostly non-linear save for the beginning and end. I’m never a fan of adventures (or video games) that are a 100% strictly linear affair and I love that The Red Tower takes into consideration nearly all the way players might react or the locations they might try to visit. If you’re the one running the adventure it might be a good idea to have the flowchart page bookmarked for easy access.

Once again, I am thoroughly impressed by a Hebanon Games adventure. The Red Tower is fun, creepy, memorable and a blast to run. Best of all? It’s absolutely free to the general public so the only two reasons to not to go back to the top of this review and download are that you either hate horror RPGs or you’re lazy. If it’s the former, you can always pass the link on to friends who do like Call of Cthulhu style games. Seriously, even if you don’t run the thing, it’s a really fun read with a rich back story and some great artwork. With four adventures in the No Security line left to go, I can’t wait to see what Hebanon has in store for us next.

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