Tabletop Review: Cthulhu Britannica: The Ballad of Bass Rock (Call of Cthulhu)

Cthulhu Britannica: The Ballad of Bass Rock
Publisher: Cubicle 7
Page Count: 14
Cost: $3.99
Release Date: 12/11/2012
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

…and here I thought Terror From the Skies would be the last Call of Cthulhu release for 2012. Although it’s not Folklore, which has seem more publishing delays than a lot of video games, Cubicle 7 releases something for their Cthulhu Britannica line of products in this calendar year. I’m kind of glad because Call of Cthulhu has had such an incredible year and I was hoping Cubicle 7 would put something out for it, especially we haven’t seen anything from them since Shadows Over Scotland. Unfortunately what we get is a rather bland and generic short little adventure that is overpriced and underwhelming.

Now that’s not to say that the adventure is terrible or poorly written. The layout, writing and everything of that nature is just fine. It’s just the adventure is one that feels like someone just pulled it out of his or her ass and sat it upon their players on the fly instead of actually sitting down and coming up with something less paint by numbers and generic. I realize these comments are probably coming off much harsher than I intend them to, but the fact remains this adventure could literally have been a middle school child’s first attempt at writing an adventure for their gaming group instead of using a store bought adventure. The fact that this costs four dollars for only fourteen pages compared to things like say, Catalyst Game Lab’s Shadowrun Missions line which runs forty or so pages and is in full colour for the same price tag just makes The Ballad of Bass Rock all the more disheartening. Perhaps this was an excised adventure from a previous Cthulhu Britannica book and Cubicle 7 just threw it out there to see who would bite?

Basically the adventure is flawed from beginning to end. The crux of the story is that the Investigators are on a cruise when bad weather and luck alike cause their seafaring vessel to break up against some rocks. The investigators are able to get to a island with the ruins of an ancient castle and a relatively recent lighthouse (also in ruins) that has been ransacked by a very hungry shoggoth. The PCs then have to try and survive the night. If they do they are rescued. The end. See what I mean about how this adventure is not only painfully generic. It feels almost like it was put together via Mad Libs or a dart board.

Again, the technical aspects of the adventure are nicely done. You have some nice hands outs and everything is laid out wonderfully for the Keeper, but formatting is not what people play adventures for. It’s the actual content where things fall apart. Instead of just letting the Investigators get to the island more or less attack, there’s a superfluous series of rolls characters need to make or take large amounts of damage due to the rocky region and bad weather. In some cases this will be enough to kill a PC if they make some bad rolls. Why would anyone design an adventure for Call of Cthulhu where your characters can be killed in the very opening of the adventure leaving a player? I’m sorry, but that’s just stupid. Maybe 1-4 hit points damage max during this whole setup but not up to TWELVE points of damage. That’s enough to kill most characters outright. Call of Cthulhu is not meant to be Keeper Vs. Players. It’s meant to be a well told horror story that engages the entire party playing it. This adventure would be better off in the Dungeon Crawl Classics system in which the whole point of THAT game sometimes seems to be how horribly your character can be killed by the GM. This is just poor adventure design pure and simple. Limit the damage and save PC death until it actually matters. Bumping someone off for no real reason isn’t fun for anyone involved.

Then there’s the rest of the adventure. The Investigators wander around the island, wet and no doubt ready for their impending bout of hypothermia or some other malady brought on by being soaking wet and exhausted when they have to deal with a shoggoth – the most powerful creature in the game not a Outer God or Great Old One. Trapped on a small island with a creature that is faster, bigger, stronger AND knows the landscape of the region better than the players? This isn’t a challenge; it’s a slaughter. Again, there’s no fun in that. Call of Cthulhu is not a Friday the 13th style slasher flick and it’s certainly not meant to be an experience where the Keeper fiendishly picks off the players one by one as the adventure actually suggests you do(!). The adventure lacks any real means or chance for the Investigators to survive save for the remote possibility of a small cave, but the Shoggoth can just send a cephalopod down after the now trapped characters and yank them out one by one. It’s as if the people behind this adventure didn’t actually want to bother with writing a fully fleshed out scenario. They obviously haven’t thought about ways for PCs to get through this. This thing just feels half-assed, rushed and poorly conceived in all ways possible. It’s definitely the worst thing I’ve ever seen Cubicle 7 put out.

Now again, just because this is the worst thing I’ve seen from Cubicle 7 doesn’t mean this is the worst adventure of all time or anything like that. I’ve seen far worse Call of Cthulhu products in my life time. This isn’t a crime against the genre or even the system; it’s just there isn’t much positive to say about this piece. Again, this adventure just feels like a pre-teen wrote it, complete with all the gaps of logic and storytelling one would expect from someone in that age group. The art and layout is fine and the adventure is fleshed out in minor unimportant details – just not in the actual areas that would give The Ballad of Bass Rock the depth and substance the vast majority of gamers are looking for. If this was free or a dollar, I could see giving this thing a pass, but to be this poorly thought out and short and with a price tag higher than most adventure two to three times the page count that Ballad of Bass Rock has? Well, that’s inexcusable and I’m actually ashamed of Cubicle 7 for letting this thing be published. If I was worried about Folklore before, I’m doubly so now. Just remember, this is playable and it’s fine if you’re looking for a paint by numbers one shot adventure to play in two to three hours and everyone is brand spanking new to Call of Cthulhu (including the Keeper) as it could serve as a way to learn what to and not to do with the system, but for anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge about the system of the mood it’s meant to convey, The Ballad of Bass Rock is an overpriced insult.

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