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Minireview: Cthulhu's Reign, edited by Darrell Schweitzer

The vast majority of Cthulhu stories are about the threat of the Old Ones awakening “when the stars are right” (after which, presumably, humanity is utterly doomed). Cthulhu’s Reign is about what happens if the stars do become right. It’s a collection of Lovecraftian end-of-the-world and post-apocalypse scenarios, some about the event itself, some (most) about the apocalyptic aftermath. It’s not exactly happy reading, and the quality varies wildly. Some of the stories go in very interesting directions, while some are mediocre or bad (many of these do have interesting premises, it’s usually the execution that wavers).

The initial story is one of these not-so-good ones, with two-dimensional characters, a weird premise, and some strange details. It has its moments, but generally starts off the collection on an off note. The pace picks up after this, though, and some of the later stories are quite good and inventive. While most are very grim and contain more graphic violence than your normal Cthulhu story, the collection does contain one comedy piece (which is pretty good), and a few of the stories end with a vaguely hopeful note. Only a few, though. This is a collection of stories about humanity’s doom, after all.

I’d say this is worth a read if you have an interest in the Cthulhu mythos. This book covers a theme not often seen in other mythos tales, and while the quality is all over the map there are some great and memorable tales here. As a general horror collection, this only rates a so-so review as a whole.

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Minireview: Carrion Hill (Pathfinder)

Carrion Hill by Richard Pett is a newish Pathfinder module, with a somewhat unusual heritage: it’s a Pathfinder Cthulhu module. Sort of. It’s directly and deliberately influenced by Lovecraft, to the extent of using names from Lovecraft’s fiction and in having sidebars which direct people to also check out Chaosium’s “Call of Cthulhu” game. This isn’t the first time that Paizo has done something like this; there are lots of Lovecraft fans among the Paizo folk and some of the earlier modules have also contained some Cthulhu references. However, this is probably the most directly “Cthulhu” thing Paizo has done to date.

I have mixed feelings here. On one hand, it’s fun to mix and match genres a bit, and there are lots of nice scenes here. Also, the mechanic of the Big Bad’s strength depending heavily on what the PCs do is a nice one – if they just barge along without thinking, they may get their asses kicked.

On the other hand, D&D and Cthulhu are an uneasy mix. Cthulhu relies heavily on the PCs being totally out of their depth and generally helpless versus cosmic horrors, whereas D&D (which Pathfinder is a version of) is firmly in the see-monster-kill-monster genre. As a result, a lot of the potential creepiness is lost since the PCs can usually just draw swords and carve up the beastie into bite-sized chunks.

The story concerns what seems to be some sort on monster, rampaging in the misty small town of Carrion Hill. It may devolve into just a “bug hunt” but there is also food for a bit of investigation and non-combat playing here. The plot isn’t the most original of plots, but does read like a good bit of fun to play or run. The main problem, as noted, is the dilution of the horror elements in the D&D genre assumptions (i.e. “if we see it, we can kill it”). The lack of any sort of sanity mechanic in Pathfinder is also a small hinderance to this sort of thing.

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