January 18th, 2012

Madame Zeb'oltha

Thoughts on Red Eye of Azathoth

Red Eye of Azathoth is the first Open Design adventure collection not to be written for D&D (or Pathfinder which is basically D&D really). Instead it’s written for Chaosium’s excellent Call of Cthulhu rules, something I lobbied for from the outset when I signed up to the project as a patron. I was actually pleasantly surprised to get hold of my copy of this adventure back in September last year as Red Eye had had such a painful genesis that it felt as if it was under some kind of Lovecraftian curse. Occasional posts from patrons on the KQ forums asking when it would be finished would be met by sad comments such as “by GenCon if it kills me” from Wolfgang, although cunningly he never actually said which GenCon he was referring to. Having waited ages to get the anthology, it then took me until this week to finally finish reading it!

Red Eye of Azathoth consists of five linked CoC adventures set in various periods in history, starting in 887 AD on the island of Lindesfarne and ending in 1887 AD in the aptly named town of Desperation, Arizona. Pre-generated characters are supplied for each time period and there are lots of handouts, the hallmark of a proper CoC scenario, as well as much nicer maps. Having read through all the adventures, two of them really stand out for me: Fires of Hatred Devour the Sky, set in Valencia during the Inquisition and the finale, And Madness Shall Rise to Devour the West, with the hideous events of the climactic adventure being particularly memorable in all their gory detail. There’s definitely something about combining horror with the Wild West that’s very cool – it worked for Deadlands and it works very very well here too. Fires of Hatred is also great, with a jail break, angelic visitations and an auto da fe providing several memorable scenes. The other thing I like is that both scenarios present situations where the PCs are up to the necks in trouble from the very start. Regular CoC scenarios typically follow the pattern of mysterious incident - investigation - stop the bad guy summoning the hideous Otherworldly Thing, with the investigation section possibly involving the odd gunfight or chase scene. In both of these adventures, the PCs can’t spend hours fannying about in libraries – they are in danger all the way through and this should keep fear and paranoia levels topped up nicely.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get quite as excited about the other three adventures in the book – they’re good but didn’t make me feel compelled to run them for my group. That Which is Dead Shall Refuse to Lie sets up the overall plot and involves Vikings and Christians working together against the evils of the Mythos on the Holy Island – I’m being deliberately vague here to avoid spoilers. The Silence of Thousands Shall Quell the Refrain is set in feudal Japan in 1287 AD and, as a massive Oriental Adventures fan, was the adventure I was looking forward to reading the most. It involves strange goings on in the remote mountain village of Iwaizumi and is pretty cool, although it lacks the big set piece scenes of the third and fifth adventures and has the feel of an L5R adventure with added horror. Lost Shall Be Those Bearing Souls Split in Twain – blimey, these titles are long! – is set on the island of Roanoke in 1587 AD. I wasn’t familiar with the story of this “lost colony” but was pleased to see the scenario starts in a pub in Sarf London before heading across the Atlantic. This is another decent adventure, with some nasty sanity-shattering scenes, and is probably my third favourite.

Overall, this is another very strong adventure anthology from Open Design, and it’s great to see something for a different game system. For CoC Keepers looking for something outside the usual 20s, Gaslight or modern day eras, Red Eye of Azathoth provides a nice change of pace. My dilemma is this – do I run the whole thing (which would almost certainly mean taking a break of nearly a year from the Ongoing Adventures of the Juma Gang, as I think we would struggle to fit each scenario into one session) or do I run the two adventures that look the most fun as one-offs? While the overarching plot of the campaign and the connections between the events in each time period makes the first option quite appealing, I think I’m going to forget about the overall plot and run either Fires or Madness the next time we’re struggling to find a date for D&D that everyone can make.