It’s been a long time since Chaosium released a single stand-alone adventure. Usually (even as far back in the early 90s when I first started playing CoC), the company packs things together as a collection or put out an entire campaign like last year’s Terror From the Skies. As such, Canis Mysterium is a breath of fresh nostalgia, reminding me of the days I’d pick up cheap five to ten dollar single adventures for games like Ravenloft and Shadowrun. The only physical copy of a solo Call of Cthulhu adventure that I own is Alone on Halloween and that’s a third party release from Pagan Publishing, so this is nice. Luckily the cost of the adventure is quite low and the quality is rather high, making this one of the better Call of Cthulhu releases of 2013. Let’s take a look at why.
Canis Mysterium sheds a lot of the Call of Cthulhu tropes. Yes, your characters are from Arkham and most will even work at Miskatonic University, but Arkham is not the focal point of the adventure and I can’t think of a single Library Use roll that you’ll be making. The adventure is more of a psychological detective story instead of a “discovering something horrible plaguing mankind” or stopping the machinations of a Great Old One or vile cult. Sure, there’s a typical Lovecraftian beastie lurking somewhere in the adventure, but you don’t see much of it and the crux of the adventure is more about the evil mankind does to itself. In fact, the monster only comes into play in the adventure due to an act of kindness performed upon it by an NPC, which is another unusual twist to the adventure. If the adventurers fail the mission (in one of several ways), something supernatural does indeed occur, but it’s more of an All Flesh Must Be Eaten experience than a Call of Cthulhu one.
The player characters will be travelling to a small town of about 800 people named Coldwater Falls. It seems the town drunk has fallen prey to lycanthropy and Miskatonic University wants the PCs to help out with the situation. Now hold up. When I say lycanthropy I don’t mean a werewolf, but the actual mental disorder where a person believes they are a wolf. The poor old man is deranged, reduced to walking on all fours, growling and trying to attack people so that it can kill and eat them. In fact, the man is believed to have already killed an eaten a young girl on her way to the outhouse one cold October Eve. At least one PC should be a psychologist, biologist or anthropologist in order to have them be hired to study (and solve?) the man’s obvious severe mental impairment. Sounds like a pretty straightforward adventure, right? Well, this being Call of Cthulhu, it is anything but.
Once in Coldwater Falls, the players will discover the usual small town gossip along with a web of intrigue that will lead them to the source of the man’s insanity. Investigators will discover a scheme of revenge that is as revolting as it is potentially lethal to all the residents of Coldwater Falls. The climax of Canis Mysterium will have the PCs fighting five different enemies and so hopefully there will be at least one character skilled at combat, but expect at least one character to bite the dust. A TPK (Total Party Kill) is not out of the question in this battle either, so be warned that while the Sanity loss rolls are at a minimum here, physical dismemberment is not.
I really enjoyed Canis Mysterium as it ended up being intriguing and unusual, allowing players to really investigate the locale, while not being so open world that they could go off tangent and lose track of their original goal. Things are pretty straightforward once clues start to fall in place and although I wouldn’t call the adventure linear, it doesn’t leave too much room for sidequests or going off rails. This means you should be able to play the adventure in a single play session, or two if players like to explore every nook and cranny and do a lot of in-character talking to NPCs. Because the adventure does require several Investigators to have specific professions, Canis Mysterium does feel like it works best as a one-off with pre-generated characters. These aren’t included in the adventure, so you will have to make them yourselves. Alternatively, this adventure could be the start of a Call of Cthulhu campaign as you are provided five story seeds that work as sequels to this adventure. These range from returned antagonists to a trip to France for an ancient and evil grimoire. It’s nice to see some options for expanding this adventure into more than a one-shot, and as long as your Keeper is willing to put some elbow grease into fleshing out the seeds into something playable, Canis Mysterium can provide you with a wealth of gaming sessions. This alone makes it well worth the cover price.
I can definitely recommend Canis Mysterium as it’s well written and a lot of fun. It also helps that it doesn’t rely on the usual Mythos tricks and tropes. The digital version only costs six dollars, and that’s a crazy good deal. You can pick it up on Chaosium’s website and read it right away. For a few dollars more, you can have Chaosium or Amazon ship a dead tree version to your house. Personally, I’d say go for the digital version unless you’re expressly against that format. It’s cute to see a adventure for Call of Cthulhu released on its own instead of in a collection, but ten dollars might be more than you want to pay for single adventure that you might not ever run, especially if you’re used to purchasing collections of adventures. Either way you’re sure to be happy with Canis Mysterium unless you really only want tentacles beasties, squamous horrors and eldritch terrors in your Call of Cthulhu games.