sábado, 25 de mayo de 2013

Reviewing: Heroes of the Sea, Part 2 of the Zero Point Campaign for Achtung! Cthulhu

Today I bring you my thoughts about what is up to now the last published product of Achtung! Cthulhu. As its predecessor, it is available for Call of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu and, since last week, for Trail of Cthulhu. Again, will be talking only about the CoC version, which is the only one I have.

Since it is not a physical book yet I won’t be doing any photo-review, but you can see a few sample pages here. This new booklet is a little bit longer than first part of the campaign (63 vs. 44 pages) although it is also a little bit more expensive ($14.99 vs. $9.99, which gives you the same price per page in case you are interested). Visually it looks pretty much like Three Kings, nice artwork from Dim Martin, some open-source pictures form the war and quite a few maps and handouts, substantially more than in the first part of the campaign.

The adventure itself occupies the first 40 pages, being the rest of the book the required appendices. Contrary to the previous part of the campaign, this one might take more than one session to finish, depending on how much the Keeper wants to complicate things for the Investigators. The adventure takes place during one of the darkest hours for Great Britain: Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the French First Army from the Battle of France in the beaches around Dunkirk, in the months of May and June, 1940. This is a great plus for me and I think it speaks highly of Sarah Newton (writer) and the whole Modiphius team. First of all, because it avoids what is in my opinion a certain cliché in the gaming world, which seems to think that World War II started on D-Day (or Pearl Harbor, or El Alamein, or Stalingrad), forgetting many years of occupation and allied defeats. Second, because it offers us the possibility of playing in a terrifying environment (even without the Mythos). In order to explain this better I need to correct myself. The adventure only is about 25 pages, since the first 15 or so are devoted to explain us the environment around Dunkirk, not just a “who was where” reference, but a “how to get there” guide. Believe it or not, we find ourselves playing CoC using a random-monster table (ok, not monster, encounter table). More than love or hate, this table inspires me fear. Fear of trying to use it properly and reflecting accurately (or as accurately as we need in an RPG) the situation at Dunkirk, showing the desperation of the soldiers leaving the front, the terrible effort of those holding it, the horror of those civilians leaving there homes…and the enemy. I know I have not mention what is the plot of this adventure, but it starts with the Investigators trying to locate an Agent of the British Secret Service who has been caught behind enemy lines… and this is pretty much all I can say without spoilers. Just doing that, or just moving around the area to be honest, might be a formidable task for most Investigators.

In order to help us reflecting the environment during Operation Dynamo, the appendix give us plenty of new vehicles, and some new rules to handle larger encounters as well as some new skills, such as Command and Strategy, which seem to me adapted from Savage Worlds (which, I am beginning to think it might be more suitable for a war roleplaying game than CoC). I think a smart Keeper will be able to get all the juice from all this information and present a challenging situation to his/her players without overwhelming them. That is precisely my biggest criticism to the adventure (or, to be honest, to the way I might use it). I think that in order to reflect properly all the combat that the Investigators might encounter (or avoid) I would be tempted to use One War (when Modiphius releases it) or Advanced Squad Leader (SAN rolls please). I know it is nonsense, but it think it would require very good mastering skills to balance the game between the “Ok, you reach your destination without further problems” and the “Fight for each move you make” that will give the right mood to the story. Regarding the new rules, and contrary to what happened in Three Kings, this time they are all condensed at the end of the book, which might force you go back and forth while playing but which avoids redundancies. The appendices section is completed with some pre-generated characters (three of them already known) and handouts (and this time there is more than just the operational briefing).

I do not know if I have been able to show it properly, but I think this is a very fine adventure. I am sure it requires quite a lot of work for the Keeper to give it the right tone but in the good hands it can be a fantastic story. I can only hope that the third and final part of this campaign Code of Honor, a spy story that will take place in Istanbul, will be just as good as this one.

$14.99 (pdf)

Spoiler Alert: For those of you who really want to know what happens in this adventure, here you have a short summary of it. If you expect to play it as an Investigator stop here, otherwise I will be ruining the fun for you.

The woman the Investigators are looking for, Agent WOTAN, is found in a comatose state in house in the Belgian (and fictional) town of Mesegen. Here notes mention a woman called Walpurgen, who leads a SS operation with the name of FALL NADEL (Operation Needle). In order to know more about such operation the Investigators must travel to the Belgian town of Nieuport, where the Germans keep a submarine. Inside it there is a portal to travel to a place called Maglemosian (theoretically, the lands once inhabited by the ancestors of the Germans, now under the North Sea; but in truth, a place in the Dreamlands). Here Ms. Walpurgen (also known as the Fishwitch) has established a Nazi outpost, where she keeps the dreaming Agent WOTAN. The Nazis, aside from becoming friends with the primitive maglemosians, are trying to ally with the Deep Ones, something that might change the war completely. The Investigators must prevent this alliance from happening, or the already dramatic evacuation is going to turn much, much worst. In order to do so, they need to stop a ritual for which Walpurgen requires an old statue that is sunken under the North Sea and bring it to a particular point in the continent (which, depending on when this takes place, might or might not be under German control). The investigators have plenty of opportunities to stop her: in the Dreamlands, under the sea or in the mainland, but there is very, very little margin for error.

It is a really good adventure, one where the investigators will really be working against the clock in the worst environment possible, where their actions will have very real consequences. Thus, tension is fully guaranteed. The eerie episode that takes place in the Dreamlands (and the relation between this world has with the awaken one) is absolutely fantastic (although I must admit I have always liked Dreamlands a lot). If half the Achtung! Cthulhu books are as good as this adventure; we are going to hear a lot about Modiphius in the next few years. End of the spoiler.

PS: There is actually a printed version of this adventure and of the previous one, as you can see in this picture. I think it is possible to get it at leisuregames.com, but I do not know of any other place were you can do it (unless you are lucky to be at UK Game Expo).

PS2: And at UK Game Expo, Three Kings and Heroes of the Sea have been nominated for best RPG. Congrats!

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