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Minireview: The Mysteries of Mesoamerica (Call of Cthulhu)

Mysteries of Mesoamerica (publisher link) is a new Cthulhu sourcebook from Pagan Publishing, somewhat of a rarity in itself. Once again Pagan fails to disappoint – assuming you are feeling like some 1920’s Cthulhu set in politically stormy Central America, this book’s for you.

It’s a pretty hefty tome, contentwise. The page count is “only” in the 220 region, but in the Pagan fashion it’s crammed full of info in a readable but fairly compact font. Lots of very cool art, too, which sets the mood nicely. The first third or so of the book goes into setting detail: politics, geography, history. It’s a pretty nice crash course into what’s what and who’s who in that area in the 1920s. The rest of the book is filled up by four scenarios, all good.

The first one, “The Well of Sacrifice”, concerns an archeological expedition which stumbles upon something dangerous – par for the course in Cthulhu. It’s quite compact and also quite deadly. It’s not strictly speaking a Cthulhu scenario at all, but fits in with the mood. The second scenario (“Menhirs in the Grotto”) is a lot more complicated; there is again an archeological dig, but this time the context is quite different as are the dangers. Local social contacts feature heavily, here. Thirdly we have “The Heretics”, which (once again!) has a loose archeological theme to start things off with, but quickly changes into something much more contemporary. Last, there’s “Temple of the Toad”, which fails to break from the “archeological find” pattern but once again goes off in a different direction.

I quite liked the scenarios, though the first and last ones are quite compact and fairly straightforward. One could fault them for all having some sort of archeology context, but that’s mitigated by the fact that archeology is just such a natural reason for PCs to be in that region during that time, and also by the fact that the scenarios all go in somewhat unpredictable directions. All are also quite dangerous. The good thing with having a unifying startup theme for all the scenarios is that they could be combined for the same set of PCs, as long as those PCs were into archeology.

One amusing addition were the numerous PC character “R.I.P.” sidebars scattered among the scenarios. Apparently the death toll during playtests was on the high side… the author of the first scenario notes that both playtest sessions resulted in total party kills… even though he hadn’t intended for the thing to be quite so lethal. So be warned: some of these may be more suitable for one-shot use than as inclusions in a campaign.

Overall, this is yet another quality book from Pagan. This is far from the “soft” direction some Cthulhu writers have gone towards – these scenarios are mean, nasty and bloody. If the PCs survive to talk about it afterwards, they’ll have won a victory.

“El Diablo! Vamos! Vamos!”

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