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Minireview: Eternal Lies (Trail of Cthulhu)

“A decade ago, a band of occult investigators battled against the summoning of an ancient and monstrous evil. They failed.”

Call of Cthulhu has always been known for its excellent big campaigns, such things as Masks of Nyarlathotep, Horror on the Orient Express and Beyond the Mountains of Madness have well earned their “classic” status. The newer Trail of Cthulhu didn’t have anything comparable… until now. Eternal Lies is a huge new campaign, aiming for the same scope as Masks and, in my opinion, easily succeeding in that. At 400 pages, it’s a huge, complex globetrotting campaign, with madness and horror aplenty for all. It’s not quite as pulpy as Masks and probably will not cause quite as many Investigator deaths, but some fatalities are almost certain; there are some nasty spots where avoiding death or worse requires a very careful approach and some amount of luck.

The story starts in 1920s, when a band of (NPC) Investigators fails in a spectacular fashion to stop a cult ritual, leaving most dead and the survivors with their sanity in tatters. “Now”, ten years later, a wealthy patron hires some people (the PCs) to find out exactly what happened to her father in 1924 (one of the survivors of the earlier incident). I’ll avoid too many spoilers here, but the main plot involves a being called “The Liar” – thus, the double meaning in the game title – and the theme of corruption, both mental and physical, is strong throughout the text. Very nasty things happen to people here, and some of those people may just be the PCs.

The structure is really well designed: the first portion is fairly linear, but after that the game opens up into a globetrotting sandbox of sorts, with the PCs having the option to chase whatever clues they find, in whatever order they like. Not everything is mandatory, much like the structure of the older Masks. The action features spots in the U.S., Asia, Africa, and elsewhere. I got some personal interest from the fact that some of the spots the campaign visits are places I’ve visited myself in real life (though, obviously, the 1930s game versions are quite different). Assuming the PCs survive and gather enough information, there is a more linear end game section… and then, when and if the PCs survive that, there’s the real end game. Apocalyptic stuff, and quite cleverly designed.

Quite simply, this is a fantastic campaign. The writing is excellent, the plot twists clever, and the structure allows for a lot of player freedom while still following a complex background plot. There’s a lot of detail here, so a GM running this will need to do a bit of prepwork, but there’s already quite a bit of fan-made support material to be found on the web if one wants some extra handouts and such. The only caution I would have has to do with the adult nature of this material: there’s a lot of references to sex, drugs and violence here, in addition to random weird and disturbing stuff. Not for younger players. For everyone else: this just might be the major new Cthulhu campaign you’re looking for.

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