Cthulhu Britannica: Folklore
Publisher: Cubicle 7
Page Count: 136
Release Date: 12/18/2012
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
Cthulhu Britannica has been a hit or miss line to me, despite the fact I’m a big fan of both Call of Cthulhu and Cubicle 7. I found the original Cthulhu Britannica piece lacking and The Ballad of Bass Rock was one of the most generic and overpriced adventures I’ve ever seen released for the system. At the same time, both Shadows Over Scotland and Avalon: The Country of Somerset blew me away with the high quality content, incredible artwork and wonderful adventures. However, after Shadows Over Scotland, the Cthulhu Britannica line seemed to dry up with Folklore being pushed back so many times, I didn’t actually think it would ever be released. However, less than a fortnight ago it was released and so here we are with our review of it. I’m going to shy away from the bits of drama that surrounded this piece such as writer changes and the like and concentrate purely on the quality of the book itself. That said, with a PDF price tag of only fifteen dollars, Folklore is an amazing deal that all Call of Cthulhu gamers should rush out to pick up. It’s not perfect, but you’re getting a sourcebook and nine adventures for a pittance of cash and that should make up for some of the lackluster adventures or minor issues I had with some of the content.
Folklore is 136 pages long, but that includes cover, ads and the like. You can divide the contents into two categories: a sourcebook on folklore and its relationship to the Cthulhu Mythos along with the Call of Cthulhu rules system, and a whopping nine adventures. It’s really well done and the areas where I nitpicked the book are only because I myself have, let’s say “a few” articles on folklore published, but they were minor errors you’d only pick up on if you wrote about the subject like your next meal depended on it. The vast majority of gamers won’t find anything at all to grumble about and will be able to use Folklore not only as a comprehensive guide to non Mythos creatures that one can use with Chaosium’s venerable system, but for other role playing systems as well. The mark of a true quality supplement or sourcebook is if you can take the content and use it easily with other system. Folklore is just such a book. Anyone can take the core creatures and concepts and move them to say, Shadowrun, Chill or any other RPG system set more or less in our world.
I should point out that Folklore is a comprehensive guide to the folklore of Great Britain only. If you were expecting folklore bits on say Native American, Egyptian or Asian culture, then I have to point out the word Britannica is in the full title of the book. For those looking for information on Ireland, I direct you to Chaosium’s monograph, Mysteries of Ireland. The book doesn’t touch on everything, say Arthurian legends, anything about Whitby or the like, but it’s still quite good. The focus on Folklore is on that of the fae and faerie folk of England and the other countries surrounding it. There are some odd inclusions like werewolves and vampires which are not only already in the core Call of Cthulhu rulebook, but they are done better in it. As well, Folklore gets some of the most basic premises about the folklore versions of these popular Hollywood-ized monsters wrong, which surprised and disappointed me. Again though, the core of the book itself is fantastic.
Folklore gives you a short little treatise on what exactly folklore is, along with a set of references in case you want to read more about the subject without gaming terminology and mechanics. For those wishing to play a folklorist in 1920s Call of Cthulhu, you’re given a basic occupation template that really does fit the stereotype to a T. I’d definitely use the package if playing one. From there the book goes on to discuss how to use folklore with Call of Cthulhu. Is the adventure purely grounded in folkloric creatures? Are the folkloric creatures just a guise for mythos creatures or a misinterpretation brought on by seeing what man was not meant to conceive nor understand? Does the folklore co-exist or run parallel to mythos creatures, meaning there is room for both in an adventure or campaign? These questions and more need to be answered by the Keeper before writing adventures or starting a campaign. After all, if the Keeper decides that there aren’t any actual folklore creatures and all folklore is brought about by misunderstanding mythos beings, players are going to have a hard time running through the recent Terror From the Skies campaign that Chaosium recently put out as players will potentially befriend a Hob and Deep Ones alike. I strongly recommend a thorough reading of folklore by anyone who is thinking about adding in creatures like fae, trolls, gnomes and whatever to their CoC campaign for both a better understanding of these creatures and their relationship with Mythos races.
There’s also a chapter on Folk Magic Vs. Mythos Magic and again, it is up to the Keeper if there is going to be a discernible difference or not. From there the book goes into a very long bestiary about different classifications of folkloric creatures. This is probably the weakest section of the book as it lumps creatures that normally wouldn’t be or shouldn’t be together and gives them a set stat package. In some cases, like Fairy Folk, this makes sense to so a lump generic package but for others like the Shapeshifters category, it just doesn’t work. Again, the Hollywood version of werewolves is in the book rather than the actual folklore one, which is odd. As well, the book makes little errors here like saying, “The vampires of folklore differ in some respects to the vampire as presented in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) and early 20th century fiction, not having to return to its original soil or coffin, for example.” which is incorrect as both Dracula AND his folkloric predecessors had to do sleep in their native either but NEITHER had to actually sleep in a coffin. The widespread use of coffins didn’t come about until the 18th Century, while the belief in vampires in one form or another in Europe is centuries older. The need for a coffin came from the same origin point as sunlight being a fatal weakness to vampires – movies. It was also odd to see banshees included as shapeshifters instead of in the ghosts section. It would have been better to have a section on lycanthropic beings, undead and to properly break out the spectral apparitions rather than lumping all these different categories into “shapeshifters.” Aside from errors like these and some names of creatures being a bit off, the section is pretty good when all things are said and done and it was nice to see Screaming Skulls and other lesser known deviltries show up here.
The book also includes a calendar of special folklore related dates, a small section of appropriate Mythos gods and creatures in relation to actual folkloric creatures. Finally we have the nine adventures. These adventures run the gambit from good to bad, which is to be expected with any adventure compilation. However one thing that is gets an across the board thumb’s down for me is the formatting of the adventures. Instead of having a clean break between adventures (that is to say starting a new adventure on a new page as is industry standard), these adventures just run together without any real breaks, making it hard to find where one starts or to flip through them for specific information. I’m not sure who thought formatting an adventure collection as if it was one long section was a good idea, but this has to be one of the worst editorial decisions I’ve seen in a while. Thankfully the content is quite good and the fact you’re getting nine adventures for fifteen dollars in addition to a seventy or so page sourcebook is enough to mitigate this down to a minor complaint. So, let’s take a look at the adventures, shall we?
The Beast of Bodmin – this adventure has players coming in contact with one of the great black dogs of British folklore as it commits fouls deeds in the town of Bodmin. Of course, there is a Mythos twist to the Black Dog, which savvy CoC players should figure out immediately from the fact it’s a DOG. What’s not so easy to predict is what to do here. Just when the players think they are going down the correct road, it just might turn out they’re doing exactly what the Black Dog wanted them to. This is a really fun little adventure that can go a dozen different ways, so it’s best in the hands of a Keeper that is either prepared for everything, or knows how his players tend to react to things. 1 for 1.
Head Over Heels – this is a wonderful Screaming Skull oriented adventure. Players are hired by a Lord Blake to retrieve a skull of his ancestor that was obtained by an odd collector. As players progress they will discover there is something equally strange about the collector, the family that hired them and the object that binds them together. Another well done adventure. 2 for 2.
The Writhing Hill – There is a young insane Cthonian in the earth beneath an archeological dig. You can pretty much tell what happens just from that previous sentence. It’s a cute adventure, but very short and simple. Still, fun is what counts and this adventure certainly is that. 3 for 3.
The Horror Out of Time -This is the first adventure I didn’t care for simply because it was way too similar to the fun before it. There is an injured insane Flying Polyp in the earth beneath a farm. Predictability happens. I know Cubicle 7 is sometimes guilty of paint by numbers style generic adventures that feel like we’ve all played them numerous times before but to very similar adventures not only in the same book, but right next to each other is just sloppy. Sure one is on a farm and the other is at a dig site, but it’s the same core adventure. Disappointing. 3 for 4.
Daughters of the Seas – This is a fun adventure but once again it’s one that I know I’ve seen before, not only for Call of Cthulhu, but it’s almost the exact same adventure I wrote and ran for Dungeons and Dragons back in 2002. I’m ninety-nine percent sure it’s a coincidence though because the sheer amount of OGL stuff out there is impossible for any one man (or even a hundred) to wade through. Anyway, the adventure is about an ancient compact between a town of fishermen and a colony of Deep Ones. Over generations, the history of the compact was lost and by the time of the adventure, it is mostly pomp and circumstance where the villagers engage in quaint old superstitious beliefs. Too bad the Deep Ones haven’t forgotten. What makes the adventure more complicated is a witch’s coven that lurks within the town, one of whose members is a worshipper of Dagon and Hydra and thus knows the truth of the village’s ancient ways. Can the Investigators figure out how to keep this sleepy seaside hamlet from become a British Innsmouth? 4 for 5.
The Body Politic – This is just a weird adventure that doesn’t feel like it belongs in a Call of Cthulhu collection. It feels like it would be more at home in one of Cubicle 7′s other lines. Victoriana for example. It’s an adventure about a mad scientist who is trying to replicate Mi-Go science by engaging in some body snatching from local traveler/gypsy/romani tribes. The Investigators have been hired to clear one of the travelers of a crime and to expose the mad scientist and his mad machinations. This adventure just doesn’t work for me. It would be better set in the 1820s instead of the 1920s for one thing (a fact the adventure itself somewhat admits), and it’s just not very well written. Whatever Keeper runs this is really going to have to tighten things up, fill in large gaps of logic and plot and basically re-write the thing from scratch. Not for me. 4 for 6.
Wedded to the Deep – This is a second Deep One oriented adventure. I was hoping the writing and editing teams would have been able to be a bit more creative, especially as this adventure is just another one about a person being a Deep One hybrid and their subsequent loss of humanity. It’s basically the same adventure every Call of Cthulhu player has been put through at least once before, but with the added twist that the hybrid in question started to transform right before his wedding. Investigators are hired to figure out what happened to the poor groom but most CoC players will have the reveal figured out long before their characters do. At least the adventure complicates things a bit with a cult devoted to Mother Hydra that is trying to capture the poor hybrid for their own nefarious reasons. Still, this is another extremely generic adventure and that worries me a little about the future for the Cthulhu Britannica line. Granted after thirty-one years, it’s hard to come up with some truly original adventures for Call of Cthulhu, but as well written as this one is, it still feels like something I would have played or even come up with myself in middle school. The same will be true for many that read or experience it. 4 for 7.
The Company of Wolves – This is another Black Dog related adventure. I can’t believe that in a book with a subject as expansive as folklore, we have two adventures devoted to Black Dogs and two to Deep Ones. Run the gamut with your source material Cubicle 7! This adventure however is significantly different from the first one in the collection and it’s a pretty weird out there experience for your players to boot. It involved a guardian wolf spirit or two, a vengeful witch, a drunken hunter and a lot of murders. It’s the most intricate of the adventures in the collection and although it’s not very Lovecraftian so to speak, it’s still one that will engage your players. 5 for 8.
The Black Spring Gate – This, along with the previous adventure, are the only ones in the collection that are actually centered on folklore instead of being straight Mythos affairs. Even then you have an antagonist looking to corrupt a Fairy Gate so that it brings forth Mythos creatures instead of the fae. Of course, this is Call of Cthulhu, so you have to expect adventures to have some tie to the Mythos. For those who want a purely folkloric affair, the mythos content here is very light and can easily be retooled to a generic sorcerer. It’s a very weird but memorable affair. 6 for 9.
So all in all, Folklore isn’t perfect, but it’s an exceptionally solid read from beginning to end and even the adventures I gave a thumbs down to aren’t BAD; they’re just generic or trite while still being playable and fun in the hands of a good Keeper or inexperienced players that haven’t been through the usual rigmarole. With a price tag of only fifteen dollars ($25 for the print version), Folklore is an exceptional deal and one every Call of Cthulhu fan should consider investing in. It’s not the best Call of Cthulhu offering this year, but it IS a nice way to end the amazing year this thirty-one year old product line has had.