The Island of Ignorance: The Third Call of Cthulhu Companion
Publisher: Golden Goblin Press
Cost: $15 (PDF) /$29.95 (Physical)
Page Count: 188
Release Date: 10/9/2013
Get it Here: Golden Goblin Press
It’s been twenty-eight years since the release of the SECOND Call of Cthulhu Companion, Fragments of Fear. Instead of Chaosium releasing the third book in this series, new indie publisher Golden Goblin Press has picked up the reigns. Unlike the previous Call of Cthulhu Companions which were very short releases (roughly fifty pages or so), The Island of Ignorance clocks in at nearly TWO HUNDRED. It follows the same format as the first two Companions by being a collection of short articles followed by some adventure, but while the previous companions were about ten articles and two adventures, The Island of Ignorance contains as many adventures as the first two companions combined. That’s a pretty good deal although the price tag is obviously much higher than the original companions, even with inflation taken into account. Hey, for the sheer amount of content, I’ll take it!
Before talking about the quality of the book’s contents, I should point out that Golden Goblin Press ran one of the best Kickstarter campaigns I’ve ever seen in terms of delivery fulfillment. I’ve backed 150 campaigns on Kickstarter and The Island of Ignorance is one of the few campaigns to actually make its promised delivery date. This is the only Call of Cthulhu based product to ever meet its delivery date, meaning Golden Goblin managed to do something Chaosium, Arc Dream Publishing, Pagan Publishing and Miskatonic River Press could not. That’s very impressive and it gives me hope that Golden Goblin will be a major third party publisher for the Call of Cthulhu line.
There are fifteen articles in The Island of Ignorance along with thirty pages of maps and handouts. Eight of those articles are essays and five are full length adventures. The end result is a nice mix of content which will allow every Call of Cthulhu fan find something to enjoy. Are the contents going to blow you away ala a Horror on the Orient Express or Masks of Nyarlathotep? It just might. Now,it’s not as if the book is going to change how you view the system or like you’ll be fawning over it on message boards for the next several years. However, as a first release by a third party publisher, The Island of Ignorance is an extremely impressive release, proving to be a solid book from beginning to end (especially on the adventure side of things) and easily the best third party CoC product this calendar year. All content is designed for the sixth edition of Call of Cthulhu rather than the continually delayed seventh edition, which was a smart call because we probably won’t be getting 7e until the middle of 2014 at this rate.
The first article is “The Golden Goblin” and it’s a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction. It tells the origins of original Golden Goblin Press, which was a fictional creation for Robert E. Howard’s Mythos tales and then quickly goes into fleshing out the fictional race of actual golden goblins than…aren’t actually golden. Sounds weird? It makes sense when you read the article as the golden part is a vessel for the creature rather than a skin tone or having the creature as an elemental. This is a fun read and a fine way to kick off not only the book, but the now real life Golden Goblin press.
“The Walshes: A Cthulhu Cult” is the next article and the name basically sums up the entire contents in a sentence. You have a cult of Cthulhu worshippers led by two Walsh brothers. You’re given some history, a set of stat blocks for the brothers and their minions, and then some story seeds. It’s nothing fancy and its content the bulk of Keepers will probably never use, but it’s well written and you have the potential for a one-off adventure should you care to flesh it out. Nothing wrong with this.
“Massa Di Requiem Per Shuggay: A History of the Devil’s Opera” is the next article in the collection and it’s the first piece in The Island of Ignorance I just didn’t care for. The writing is decent, if a little dry, but it’s all content that has been previously released by multiple writers multiple times. Counting this article, this is the FOURTH time in the past year where the Massa and the Shan (Insects from Shaggai) have been covered in-depth. We had a whole campaign with Terror From the Skies and then individual adventures based on this very topic in Atomic Age Cthulhu and Tales From the Sleepless City. Did we really need a fourth rehash of the same basic content from three different publishers in the same year? No, absolutely not. Much like Deep Ones, the Shan are becoming a “beating a dead horse” race where people just keep regurgitating the same content and basic plot lines over and over again. There probably needs to be a moratorium on Shaggai content for a year or three after all this in order to force both publishers and writers to stay fresh and ensure players/purchasers don’t go, “Haven’t I read this before – REPEATEDLY?”
“Johnny Came Marching Home” is the fourth article in the collection and it’s a mix of mechanics and background content for playing Veterans of the Great War. It’s hard for some players to properly roleplay a character who lived through horrors we can’t truly imagine in a time period that had none of the things we currently take for granted, so this article is nicely done in that respect. You get a nice amount of information on the world around a veteran. The bulk in on character creation rather than being a history report, so while the background content is light, it’s well researched and helps get a player better into the head of their character. There are some things I like, such as giving a vet +10% Credit Rating due to respect and giving combat veterans three points of extra EDU (to reflect experience and their time in the School of Hard Knocks) in exchange for less starting sanity and a penalty such as a physical disability or the shell shocked status. It’s nicely balanced out and of course it’s completely optional. If you want to build your character according to the core rulebook or the Investigator’s Companion, nothing is stopping you.
“Dweller in the Darkness” is an essay on an article on a Brian Lumley penned Great Old One, Bugg-Shash. There’s not a lot of content on the GOO itself, with the article spending the bulk of its time discussing two Bugg-Shash cultists. As such it’s a little dull and doesn’t really give players much information about Bugg-Shash, which really should have been the point of the article. This one is a disappointment.
“The Knjiga Mrtva” is our next article and oh man did the title drive my auto-correct insane. This is an odd little article about a Van Helsing analogue and the journals, articles and writing the man made over twenty years. It’s an interesting idea but it lost me as soon as it made the author buddies with Victor Frankenstein. That’s just cheesy and lame. Honestly, between the Frankenstein mention, vampire hunting, and general nature of “The Book of the Dead,” this article felt like it was written more for Chill or Cryptworld than Call of Cthulhu. This was just not very good in terms of writing or concept.
The last article is “The Silks of Irem” and I have to admit, I was almost expecting a Mummy: The Curse tie-in because of the name. Thankfully it was not to be. Instead we get a really interesting article about a magic silken sheet that can act as a gateway to…somewhere. It’s nice to see a magic item that one wouldn’t usually think of. After all, most magic items are statues or amulets and the like (Unless we’re talking D&D where there are a ton of weapons and armor) and so you don’t usually think that bedspread in the castle you are exploring is enchanted and/or a gateway to some other place. This article is extremely in-depth and a lot of fun to read even if you have no intent of ever actually using the Silks of Irem in your campaign.
The last article in The Island of Ignorance was also my favorite. It’s entitled “Raggedy Clothes and Worn Out Shoes: A look at the American Hobo.” This article is more in-depth and detailed than the other seven in this book COMBINED. Considering how good some of those aforementioned articles are, that should tell you how impressed I was by this piece as both a gamer and a folklorist. There are so many ways to use this, especially with CoC pieces set in the 1930s like Hebanon Game’s No Security line of adventures or the Children of the Storm monograph. It was great to see Hobo Cant, hobo signage and other even the Hobo Code brought up here as they are aspects of the hobo I usually see missed when people are writing or playing hobos for tabletop games. Generally they say hobo but mean bum and I was delighted to see this article actively makes distinctions between bums, tramps and hoboes. This is so overlooked and although you don’t NEED this level of historical accuracy to enjoy a game with a transient in it, the accuracy of this article will help your piece or character come alive and also keep a more detail oriented editor (or professor) from ripping it apart. Awesome job here.
So out of the eight articles, I give five a thumb’s up and three a thumb’s down. That’s not bad at all, especially for a first release from a fledgling company. However we still have five adventures and some extra content to go. Let’s dive into those.
“Consumption” is the first adventure and it’s meant to be a direct sequel to “The Picture in the House” by H.P. Lovecraft. However if you haven’t read that short story, worry not as you can still enjoy the adventure without feeling like you are missing something. This is a really fun adventure to me because while being very true to the mood, themes and very core of what Call of Cthulhu is about, there aren’t any Mythos beasties of alien gods to be seen here. Nope, instead, you’re dealing with very a human menace. I hesitate to call it a cult as that word has religious overtones, but your Investigators will be dealing with a small but powerful and close knit group of people who engage in some pretty depraved behavior. The problem is that most (but not all) are affluent members of the community. This forces players to figure out some creative ways to stop their antagonists. After all, murdering prominent and high profile members of the community is not a smart action to take and it will be very hard to drum up support from the authorities because…well, that would be telling. This adventure is really going to force players to thinking outside the box because so many of the usual ways for dealing with a mundane threat are closed to them. In some ways the characters are more challenged by this scenario than they would be by the same old “Oh no, ghouls/deep ones/shan/zombies” type of monster based threat. I really loved this, especially since it could feasibly be played in any era (although moving it would potentially break its connection to the Lovecraft tale that inspired it). “Consumption” is one of the better CoC adventures I’ve seen released this year.
“Let the Children Come to Me” is our second adventure and it’s an odd one. There is some foray into rape and child abuse, which may bother some gamers. It’s good that the adventure starts off with a warning about these potential triggers and it’s also good that the Keeper doesn’t have to act or describe any of these events while they happen. It’s more players discovering these events after the fact. Both child abuse and sexual assault are squicky topics to be sure, and so the adventure certainly isn’t for everyone, ESPECIALLY since the adventure has a good chance of ending with the Investigators killing the victims of the abuse and saving the perpetrator. That’s a pretty horrific thought in and of itself, but what happens when the child molester is actually the lesser of two evils? That’s pretty messed up and this adventure will force Investigators to make some hard choices – choices that might make facing down a shoggoth a more appealing option (There are no shoggoths in this adventure.). “Let the Children Come to Me” is a very well written but ultimately bleak and depressing adventure. This is Call of Cthulhu however, so you shouldn’t go into any adventure for this system expecting some uplifting 80s rock ballad to be playing at the end of the experience, but man expect to be going, “Man, that’s messed up” at the end of this one. I would definitely gauge the triggers of your players before running this one, but if your group can handle it, this is an adventure well worth experiencing and it really highlights how the Shub-Niggurath should be portrayed. Another fine job.
“The Lonely Point Lighthouse” is our third adventure. Remember how I bitched earlier about how too many CoC writers rehash the same basic plot or events over and over again until you just wish people would stop writing about that race or topic? Well, “The Lonely Point Lighthouse” features one of those races that has been all but put to death by bad writing and reuse of the same core adventure plot, just by different hacks. Thankfully, this is an entirely different take on that race (in two different ways! In the same adventure. Holy crap!) that really shows that a good writer can make even the most overdone aspect of Call of Cthulhu feel fresh again. Of course “The Lonely Point Lighthouse” will no doubt be the exception to the rule and we’ll see this particular race used in the same exact way in extremely similar adventures but for now let’s rejoice that we have this one.
“The Lonely Point Lighthouse” has Investigators exploring a lighthouse (SHOCK!) that is rumoured to be haunted. Due to rough weather, players will be stuck at the lighthouse longer than expected and will be at the mercy of the elements, if not a fiendish thingy. I loved that the adventure portrayed both creatures that players can encounter in a sympathetic light. Well at least to the Keeper. Investigators will probably enter a shoot first and ask questions later mode. The events are spooky, the locale of a haunted lighthouse is surprisingly underutilized for this system and the entire affair is highly memorable. Three solid adventures in a row!
“With Blue Uncertain Stumbling” is the hardest adventure in the collection to make work. Now that by no means makes it a bad adventure – just one that needs a very detail oriented Keeper in order to pull it off correctly. Otherwise the thing can fall apart as there are numerous subtle clues and visual tells that adventure constantly requires. While the characters do get to visit beautiful Key West, they are doing so right before a hurricane and have to deal with the machinations of a dead witch. This is another fun scenario that doesn’t usual the usual Mythos creatures and I found it amusing that the scenario even refers to the principal antagonist as a B-List villain, but the adventure really is challenging for players to figure out if the Keeper isn’t constantly holding their hands or dropping the aforementioned clues that they need to do regularly. You want an experienced group all around for this to work. It is NOT an adventure for novices to RPGs or Call of Cthulhu in particular. The adventure has the potential to be very gory and I also found it interesting that the exceptionally ordinary and common lifeforms this adventure makes use of has more potential to gross/creep out certain players – even more so than some Lovecraftian horrors. I really liked how such a mundane thing can be used to horrify players and it’s a nice reminder that sometimes we overdo the alien monstrosities our minds can’t fathom and a return to our more basic primal fears is called for.
Finally we come to “Darkness Illuminated.” In spite of the horrible misuse of the term sandbox to describe this adventure when it’s actually nothing of the sort (What can I say, after twenty years in the video game and tabletop industries, this is a minor pet peeve of mine.), I really loved this adventure. Like “The Lonely Point Lighthouse,” “Darkness Illuminated” gives us a very different take on a somewhat overused Mythos creature while also painting it in a sympathetic light. It’s interesting to see how players of different experience levels viewed this adventure. Relative newcomers were like, “Awww, let’s help it.” Veterans were like, “Wait, no. This is a setup for something far more horrible, isn’t it? ISN’T IT?” Anyway, this is a pretty twisted affair with Investigators having to decide who the real monster is – a ruthless industrialist or his monstrous captive. Of course the answer just might be both are pretty horrible depending on how your characters look at things. Darkness Illuminated has a lot of memorable aspects. Iconic Cthulhuoid creature? Check? Creepy ass children? Check. Mad science? Check. Taking down a corporation almost Shadowrun style? Check. There’s a lot to really like about this adventure.
Once you’ve flipped through all the adventures in The Island of Ignorance, you have a “Pre-Generated Character Equipment List” that you will either find forgettable or highly useful, depending on our play style, and then eighteen pregenerated characters. Oddly enough the pregenerated characters are one of the low points of the collection, even with the amusing character photos. This is simply because I found the characters to be way overpowered stats-wise in general. Ten of the eighteen pregens have stats of nothing but 11 or higher. No character has a stat lower than 8 and only one of them goes that “low.” These characters are more what you’d find in a D&D power gaming session in terms of stats than what you would actually find (or roll) in a Call of Cthulhu game. Extremely odd stats too at times. A Physician with an EDU of 18 but a lounge singer with an EDU of 23? Oy. For the sheer number of pre-generated characters in this book, I would have liked to have seen Golden Goblin show off more realistically rolled characters and just how you can make a character with some bad rolls playable. What an unfortunate way to end the book. Well at least you have several dozen pages of handouts and maps from the adventures to cushion the blow.
All in all The Island of Ignorance is tremendously well done. Sure there are a few things in the book I didn’t care for or thought were poorly conceived, but anytime you have a large compilation like you’ll find something to like and something to turn your nose up at. The Island of Ignorance is an exceptionally good deal for that $14.95 cover price. It’s far superior to other Call of Cthulhu crowdfunded products like Bumps in the Night and The Sense of Sleight of Hand Man (both of which I backed in addition to this one) and it’s arguably the best release for the system this year. I’m definitely looking forward to other Golden Goblin Press releases (They’re doing another Kickstarter in December) and I can’t wait to see what else they have planned for next year.