When I first saw the summary page for Miskatonic River Press’s new adventure book Our Ladies of Sorrow I was Instantly excited about getting my hands on a copy. Not only is the cover art phenomenal (click through on the link above to see the original as opposed to my butchered version on the left), but the promise of a mythological ghost story featuring goddesses of grief madness and death, with an ending that provides a difficult choice for the PCs had me hooked. Luckily for me, I got my grubby paws on an advance copy. It took me quite a while to read through the entire book. Not only is it 150 pages, but everything is a compelling read, including normally skipped sections such as the foreword, appendices, and afterword. Is it a perfect product? Maybe not, but there areÂ few imperfections and most aren’t flaws so much as necessary features.
Starting with the good stuff, this product is a work of art. The story within is told well enough that it holds up on it’s own as an entertaining read and to make the appendices and bibliography invaluable if you’re like me and want to read more on the subject after you’re done with the adventures. In addition, the fact that (according to the author) a great deal of the details are borrowed from or inspired by true stories will have you searching the internet for bizarre tidbits throughout the book. Was there really a mummified baby found in an estate sale suitcase? How about a suicide victim whose hand was stolen posthumously?*
The adventures in the book are designed to be sprinkled into an existing Call of Cthulhu campaign with other adventures preceding, following, and interspersed within. This model makes the clever use of NPCs that are consistent throughout the adventures as well as the excellent foreshadowing within the adventures to create a feeling of consistency and impact within the adventures. There are also elements of these adventures that more powerful or appropriate when aimed at characters with particular background elements, so other scenarios become a useful space to develop or introduce those background elements.
The adventures in this book are unique in that they are almost completely Mythos free. There are a few hints on how it could be tied more closely into the Mythos, but that’s left up to the GM to do themselves. Add to that the fact that the adventures are fairly non-lethal, and even comes with a section on how to run the game for fewer players, and how to deal with unlucky rolls, and you have a perfect set of adventures for players that aren’t terribly familiar with Call of Cthulhu lore or even the game system. That makes this a great product for new players, for conventions (when you’re not sure who you’re going to get) or other similar situations.
There were, however, parts of this product that left me scratching my head a bit. For starters, I know I just said that this is a great set of adventures for new players, but this isn’t a great set of adventures for new players and new GMs. There are three elements that suggest that these adventures are best run by an experienced GM.
First, large and critical parts of the adventures hinge on successful skill uses. In fact, within the first five minutes of the first adventure, a collection of poor Spot Hidden and Listen rolls, have the potential to completely overlook the entire adventure! The book has a section of when and how to allow success despite poor rolls, and provides an NPC in each section to nudge the PCs along when things haven’t gone well, but knowing when to ignore the rolls, and pushing with NPCs without spotlight stealing can be daunting tasks.
Next, the pacing in the adventures is deliberately slow, with many dead ends and red herrings. While this provides a realistic mystery atmosphere, and while there are hints to drop, events that provide new leads, and NPCs to push at the right times, knowing when use those tools depends on interpreting your players’ mood and frustration levels correctly.
Finally, the adventures strive for a “ghost story” atmosphere of subtle horror, and while they provide plenty of opportunity and tools to create that atmosphere, using those tools correctly isn’t well explored or made explicit.
With a good GM, or to a lesser extent, with experienced players, none of these are particularly large concerns, but this would be a bumpy product for an entire group of first time Cthulhu players.
The only other complaints I have are small ones. These adventures are heavy on detail and crafted so the detail matters. If I tried to run them without an adventure outline and in some sections, a daily outline to make sure I hit the right things at the right time, I know I’d end up in a situation where I had forgotten to include some detail that was critical later. It would have been nice if these had been provided in the book itself rather than making GMs create their own, especially since some of the details that should be “seeded” are presented in later sections of the book than where they were supposed to be made use of but it’s not an insurmountable problem.
The adventures also make use of player handouts. These handouts are provided both in the adventure text for easy reading, and in a section of their own at the end of the book for easy copying, which is something I wish more products did. However, given the overall quality of the product, I couldn’t help but think that the formatting of the player handouts in the copy section could have been made much more appealing and immersion inducing with only a little more design work. Had newspaper clippings been made to look like newspaper clippings, book excerpts made to look like book pages, diary extracts used handwriting fonts and so on, these handouts would have better added to the production quality of the work as a whole.
I honestly can’t say when I’m next going to run a Call of Cthulhu campaign, but when I do, I’m definitely dusting off and including Our Ladies of Sorrow. It’s well polished and accomplishes what it sets out to do beautifully. While it will be challenging to run, the payoff will be well worth the effort.
Want to learn more about Our Ladies of Sorrow? Read
Atomic Array: Our Ladies of Sorrow (Atomic Array 033)
Game Cryer: Review by Chris Perrin
All Games Considered: More Intimate Horror
Apathy Blogs: ModernÂ Maidens of Myth
Critical Hits: ModernÂ Gaming Scary Women
Bartleby: Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow
Drop by MiskatonicÂ River Press today!
* Apparently, mummified babies in suitcases are more common than you’d think. Posthumous hand thieves however, I didn’t find any evidence of. Of course, I didn’t look all that hard. If you can contradict me, please do.
Something I didn’t realize until I read the Atomic Array Links I received this morning that the version of DeQuincy’s Levanna and Our Ladies of Sorrow found in the Adventure Book is an abridged version (Which is also found in the Internet Modern History Sourcebook: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/quincey-levana.html) This doesn’t impact the product in any way, but the Bartleby’s version in the link at the end of the article is much more complete.
a mummified baby in a suitcase is plain creepy…
Nice review! I’ve never run a Call of Cthulhu game, are there any adventures you’d recommend for people new to the game (and horror RPG genre in general)?
@rwenderlich – It’s long out of print, but “Coming Full Circle” by Pagan Publishing (1995) was probably the best CoC campaign I’d ever run. It’s perfect for beginning players.
It’s a set of four connected adventures that takes place over the course of a decade (1929-1939). There are no Mythos-creatures; all of the baddies are more traditional horror threats: poltergeists, vampires, witches, etc. One of the scenarios is even based off an old horror movie.
It’s definitely worth digging up if you can find it.
@Walt Ciechanowski – @Walt Ciechanowski – @Walt Ciechanowski – @Walt Ciechanowski – Thanks Walt, I’ll check that out!
Unfortuneately I haven’t run nearly enough CoC campaigns and those I have I’ve written my own stuff. In general each edition of the rules has a starter adventure in it that’s good for starting point and easy for new players and GMs (come to think of it, I’ve owned more sets of CoC base rules than campaigns run. My family and friends aren’t fans of CoC).
If you’re not a new GM, just new to CoC, this wouldn’t be a bad adventure set to run. Pacing and such are common skills to all RPGs. CoC is a very simple rules system (despite being robust).
For new GMs to horror, take a look at the article I wrote last Haloween on running haloween games. there’s a lot of goodness there on running horror games.
Either way, definately look up that adventure Walt reccommends. You can probably find it on amazon or Ebay and CoC editions don’t change enough to worry about the fact it’s a bit old.
It’s a testament to the effectiveness of the horror in this adventure, that this evening, nearly two months after I read this book and wrote the article, that when I woke up at 5am, decided to do some final-minute computer work, and happened to stumble across a refference to this book, that going walking across the darkened basement, with it’s yawning apetures to the laundry and boiler room, and strangely configured bathroom was a good deal more excitement than I was really interested in experiencing.