Tabletop Review: Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones (Trail of Cthulhu)

Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones (Trail of Cthulhu)
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
Page Count: 10
Cost: $2.95
Release Date: 05/01/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

I’m not really a big Trail of Cthulhu fan, preferring Call, Age, Shadows, Realms, CthulhuTech, and even the late lamented Chill over it. Still, sometimes Pelgrane puts out a piece for it that intrigues me enough to pick it up. In this case, it was Ken Hite’s Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones, a way to spice up everyone’s favorite fish people and keep Keepers from rehashing the same old plot. If you’ve read my Call of Cthulhu reviews, you’ve no doubt noticed my annoyance with many a collection that uses Deep Ones in an adventure only to have the story be a retread of The Shadow Over Innsmouth or “Oh no! Character X is actually a Deep One hybrid!” Perhaps the worst of these was Arkham Case Files: Deep Morgue which shows how badly Deep Ones are used these days. So I was quite curious to see Ken’s ideas and if they had universal application.

Well this piece is a mixed one. I thoroughly agree with him that, “Almost a century after he wrote, his own monstrous races have likewise begun to seem like comfortable story furniture rather than unnerving signals that the world is horrible and wrong.” But the quality of Ken’s own ideas are hit or miss at best and some are pretty much just rehashes of each other, meaning there wasn’t enough actual content to fill the full ten pages or this is indicative of a larger problem – that Cthulhu tabletop games need some fresh blood.

I do love that the very first page of Hideous Creatures implores you to change anything and everything about it. The piece is very humble that these ideas are not the be all and end all of creativity, nor is it a blanket savior for this Lovecraft penned race. It’s merely stuff thrown against a wall and Keepers get to decide what sticks. I like that.

At first I was a little weirded out by his idea of making Deep Ones dolphin or whale based because those are mammals and Deep Ones are fish. I first read this late at night and was like, “Does the dude not know his taxonomy?” Then when I read it with fresh eyes the next morning, I liked the ideas a lot better. A change like that is still thematically correct because it’s a half man/half aquatic creature and it will thrown off long time jaded Cthulhu gamers. As well, for those gamers that nitpick every bit of Science Fiction or horror, a mammal/mammal hybrid makes more sense than a mammal/fish. He also includes some ideas like turtles and alligators as possible Deep Ones variants. I’m surprised he didn’t try for strange and unusual fish types those. Imagine an Anglerfish Deep One, or even a Dunkleosteus. I think more people would have been receptive to fish variants than going from fish to mammal or reptile.

There’s also a section giving varying reasons that may be why Deep Ones interact and breed with human. Again, none of these ideas are given more weight than any other and it’s up to the Keeper to decide if he likes one, wants to combine several, or thinks they are all stupid. There is a similar section for back story and race history for Keepers who want to flesh the race out a little more and try and understand the motivation behind why Deep Ones do what they do. Again, the ideas are hit or miss. It’s definitely a piece that promotes a quantity of ideas, but not at the sake of quality. It’s just no two people are going to look at a list of possible ideas and rank them all in the same exact order from best to worst.

The only Trail of Cthulhu specific aspects of the piece are the stat builds, the list of optional powers to give Deep Ones for that system, and clues that can be garnered via various skills that players may possess. A good Keeper can easily convert these ideas to their own system of choice however.

The only part I was disappointed with was the “Mythic Echoes,” which is sad because it was the section I was most interested in as a folklorist myself. I loved that the piece gives eight different fish style people from legend and tries to blend them with the Deep Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s a great idea I’ve seen done elsewhere and it’s something I myself have used in games. The problem is that the descriptions of many of the folklore creatures are incomplete at best and outright erroneous at worst. It’s decent enough that the average gamer, who up until know was unaware of these mythological creatures, will find what’s written here interesting and something to run with, but the more mythological oriented gamer will either nitpick or become annoyed with the lack of quality here. Personally, I think it’s about as good a job as one could do if you had to fill a page with eight different myths from around the world while using a larger than normal font and you only had a few minutes and Google to help you out. Could it have been better? DEFINITELY. Is it good enough for government work or a little primer on how to freshen up a stale gaming trope? Sure it is.

The piece ends with four story seeds that are, again, hit or miss. “The Shadow over Dunwich” was interesting but it really should have named the town something other than a familiar Lovecraft location. It’s NOT the Dunwich of New England and the retreading of the town’s name like that is somewhat ironic considering this is meant to be a primer for looking at something else penned by Lovecraft with fresh eyes instead of going to the well again. “1939 Goes Down in History” is interesting in theory but it will take a Keeper a lot of time and energy to fully flesh this seed out. “Night of the Living Fossil” is another good idea, but I think it would have benefitted from being a fully fleshed out adventure as many there are so many plot lines that some Keepers will turn this into a train wreck rather than an enjoyable or memorable affair. “Down and Out in Marine Land” is just…not good. Let’s leave it at that.

All in all, Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones is neither a success nor a failure. It’s a good starting point for Cthulhu gamers from all systems to come together and really start to get creative with their adventure ideas instead of relying on the same old underpinnings and plot points. Mileage will vary on what you take away from this piece because of who you are, how you game and most importantly, how you view the Deep One race. I can’t say there is anything here that is new to me or that opened my eyes, but less experienced Cthulhu gamers might view this as a breath of fresh air. I think this could have been even better with more content and it had not been part of a new monthly subscription piece. Time and space constraints really limited what this COULD have been.

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