Call of Cthulhu: Children of Fear, Chaosium, £19.52, Website
Review by Seth Stauffer
There’s nothing quite like diving into a new book by a favourite author, even if they’re dead. When it comes to RPGs, massive campaigns such as Chaosium’s offering, Call of Cthulhu: Children of Fear most definitely offers a heaping-helping of H.P Lovecraft. This historically set tale sees players following frightening clues all over Asia to get to the bottom of a terrifying mystery.
First, the book is not for everyone. There are some extreme themes within this yarn, as one would expect with anything that has to do with Cthulhu. What is available is a robust, intelligent book, but it’s substantial and adult-oriented. There is no shortage of information, almost to a fault.
In fact, there’s a fine line between “too much and not enough” information in gaming. As expected, there are maps, (well-made) NPCs, and even material (books, music, movies,…) to help people who want supplemental content to get more context, but that isn’t all. Some people will appreciate nuance and presentation of extensive details, such as the make and model of a car, plus its top speed. On the other hand, some people see stuff like that as superfluous. Is it excellent context for setting and theme, or too much notetaking? The resulting effect is that the book sometimes struggles under the weight of all its finer points
There are tips for character creation that will help the players, such as a list of occupations that the players, (great for newbies!) would benefit from incorporating. It’s easy to be a bit harsh, letting players go without guidance, but it’s nice to see that suggestions are available. This kind of approach to the design makes it clear that the game is meant to be played as thoroughly as possible.
Reading through it, I couldn’t stop feeling that it reminded me of a novel that was slow to get going. Sometimes a story doesn’t really come together until it’s a third to halfway through the tale. That can be OK for fiction but tough for an RPG, and slow pacing can be an issue for a group of people playing a game. Depending on how long it takes to get through a session, there’s a risk that things drag a bit before the plot gets going. Anyone stepping up to run the game will need to keep this in mind to ensure players are engaged.
That early gradual progress must have been anticipated because there are multiple optional “extras”, that are themselves at times fairly substantial, that can be thrown at players to keep them on the edge. What’s more, some sections say things like, “If the investigators take this course of action…,” and offer different ways of dealing with different situations-a nice touch.
An exceptional amount of work went into creating this book. From start to finish it’s probably as dense a resource as anything I’ve ever read. Some may find the sheer volume of what’s available to be simply too much. When combined with what can feel like an incremental rate of storytelling throughout the book, this mission has a sense of simply plodding along, but everything builds as the adventure progresses.
By the time the campaign comes to a head, there is an abundance of freakish horror present in the story. Along with all of the historical research that creates the entire book’s architecture, loads of extras, fantastic production values, and suggestions for gameplay, this book is packed from cover to cover. It is a complete product and one that will keep a gaming group occupied for quite a long time.