Tabletop Review: The Owlglass (Call of Cthulhu)

The Owlglass (Call of Cthulhu)
Publisher: Golden Goblin Press
Page Count: 10
Cost: Free (to Kickstarter backers)/$500 (everyone else)
Release Date: 11/25/2013
Get it Here: Golden Goblin press

The Owlglass is a bonus scenario for anyone who pledged $35 dollars or more on Kickstarter to the Island of Ignorance, by Golden Goblin Press. There were 325 backers, but only 191 people pledged high enough to receive this, making The Owlglass a rare adventure indeed. Of course, as it’s PDF only and there are no physical copies, I’m sure some of the people who have a copy of this will end up spreading it around the net. Still, for right now, The Owlglass is a cute little collectible and a nice thank you from Golden Goblin press. I do hope the adventure is eventually released to the general public though, as I hate Kickstarter and convention exclusives, especially if an exclusive is good enough that it should be shared with everyone. The good news is Island of Ignorance is currently available to everyone (sans The Owlglass). I reviewed it back in October and I feel it’s the best overall Call of Cthulhu release this year. Definitely pick it up if you have the chance.

The Owlglass is penned by Stuart Boon, who is best known from his work with Cubicle 7’s Cthulhu Britannica line. The catch of the adventure is that backers who pledged high enough got to pick from a variety of options, such as location and goal for the adventure. Then Stuart had to put an adventure together based on the winner of each category. The combination of winning choices gave us an adventure where players had to make their way off a sea faring vessel Resident Evil: Revelations style in the middle of the ocean while also preventing the machinations of a mysterious artifact. The end result is a fun adventure that may not be Boon’s best work, but considering he had parameters he was forced to fill instead of being given free reign, the adventure is very well done (all things considered) and all the more impressive considering the guidelines he was forced to follow. The adventure IS missing some very standard information, such as the time period it takes place in, the recommend number of Investigators that should partake in this and the like. Your best bet is to set The Owlglass in the 1920s though, although the 30s and even the 40s could work based on the description, as it will still work (the artifact is unearthed in 1921 so any of these time periods can fit based on that background information).

I should point out that The Owlglass is not very Lovecraftian in theme or tone. The plot revolves around a Great Old One that once worked for Azathoth but was set up for a fall by Nyarthalotep. Now with its body torn asunder, the Great Old One’s mind reaches out across the universe trying to find the remnants of its physical form so it can reconstitute and wage revenge against the Crawling Chaos. Long time Call of Cthulhu fans might find a lot wrong with the above. After all, a Great Old One working for an Outer God? Great Old Ones feeling base level human emotions such as revenge? Fighting amongst the things man was not meant to know (both physically and politically)? The adventure’s background really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and the overall feel of the piece is far closer to Dereleth’s version of the Mythos than Lovecraft or his core contemporaries. This isn’t a bad thing, or even a big deal, but expect the more anal retentive CoC fans to pick the background information of the story apart once they learn of it. The good news is there’s no way TO learn of it in-game so any petty whining or complaints will occur after the fact.

The Owlglass sees the Investigators in the middle of a transatlantic journey, taking them from Southampton to New York City (or vice versa) aboard a ship named The Edmonton. The adventure doesn’t try to explain how or why the Investigators are on board, so that is left up to the Keeper. There is a suggestion that the adventure be placed into a campaign, but it’s a pretty terrible idea considering Golden Goblin has crowed about the sheer lethality of The Owlglass to its backers (50-65% mortality rate and a 33% rate of a Total Party kill). In fact, the email with this bonus adventure went out with a strong warning NOT to run this adventure in the middle of a campaign, so I’m not sure why the text of the adventure contradicts it. I’m going to go with sloppy editing. In truth, I side with the email from Golden Goblin over the text itself, as The Owlglass works best as a one-shot due to the content and the fact that characters will probably be dropping left and right.

Partway through the journey a mysterious artifact begins acting up, transforming the crew of the ship into hideous monstrosities. Players have to figure out what is causing the transformations, the location of the artifact and find some way to stop it, all while trying to survive the horrors that want to kill them or make them a part of their new family. In a sense, The Owlglass is basically The Thing on a boat rather than in a freezing tundra. The end result is, again, something more Delereth, or even Resident Evil than your typical Call of Cthulhu adventure. Survival Horror isn’t the personal preference of most CoC players, but it is what the largest portion of Island of Ignorance backers voted for, so it’s what we all got. It’s probably a good thing they got a Cthulhu Britannica writer to pen this, as Cubicle 7’s CoC adventures do tend to have far more physical altercations in them than those penned by other companies that put out Call of Cthulhu products.

The end result is an adventure where, even if players “win” their battle against the mysterious artifact, they still will probably die horribly in some other way, such as starvation, malnourishment, drowning, dismemberment and the like. This is a hard adventure to survive, which is why I strongly suggest it as a one off, perhaps with pregenerated characters so players don’t lose long time Investigators they have grown fond of. I enjoyed The Owlglass for what it was, even if it’s not the type of Call of Cthulhu adventure I enjoy running. Survival Horror, to me, is best left in the video game world, as in tabletop gaming it comes across more like a dungeon crawl than anything else. Still, I have to admit, Stuart Boon was given very specific parameters he had to fill and he did a wonderful job fulfilling the backers’ requirements. You can’t really ask much more than that. The Owlglass may not be for everyone (due to rarity, mood, theme and topic), but it is a nice adventure to get your hands out and it’s a fine read, even if you don’t play it through.

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