Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Minions [Cthulhu]

Minions is a 64-page, black and white soft-cover book in the Chaosium Cthulhu House series (meaning that it was "produced out-of-house by independent artists and authors"). Published in 1997, Minions is subtitled "Fifteen Brief Encounters" and is intended to provide brief standalone adventures or campaign plug-ins for a 1920s Call of Cthulhu game. Each of the mini-adventures comes with a map, newspaper clipping, or other type of player handout. Here are the fifteen scenarios (SPOILERS):

Serendipity involves one of the PCs getting hired as a lab assistant for a scientific research outfit, only to discover that a magickal Gate has been created. The scenario doesn't explain where the Gate leads or what (if anything) comes out of it, leaving it to the Keeper's imagination. To my mind, this scenario has several problems: (1) it really only works for a single PC; (2) the PC has to have a scientific background and be interested in full-time employment; (3) it's hard to drop in as a routine matter during a campaign; and (4) there's nothing interesting except for the discovery of the Gate (the consequences of which are not fleshed out) and thus the scenario doesn't save the Keeper any time or effort.

Six Foot Plot has an interesting hook: journal pages found in the possession of a PC's recently-deceased cousin tell of an experiment in immortality involving the cousin's lab partner being buried alive. With the cousin dead, the PCs are meant to start frantically searching for where the lab partner is buried in order to save his life as the hours tick down. As I said, an interesting idea, but the problem is there's no reason for the PCs to be in a hurry--they'll assume that if the experimental process has failed, the lab partner will have suffocated within minutes; and that if it worked, then there's no particular danger. Still, it's a creative idea that could work with a little tinkering and added motivation.

Terrible Head is a slight one-page encounter that starts with the hook of a patient desiring to visit a "qualified psychoanalyst" in the party. It basically involves the discovery of infant Nightgaunts. I really can't see getting a session's worth of gaming out of it, but could be a brief subplot for an alienist character.

The Last of Joy starts with one of the investigators receiving a letter from an old school friend, who requests the investigator to come visit at his seaside cottage. It turns out that the friend's "sick" wife is actually turning into a Deep One-like monster, and the PCs have to decide whether to try to save her or let her disappear into the waves. This scenario has a simple but effective hook and a good moral decision for the PCs to make. Presumably the Keeper should be ready with some background for how the wife became infected.

Lost Property requires a lot of rail-roading by the Keeper: he has to ensure one of the PCs finds a mysterious mystical amulet well in advance of running this scenario; that the PC decides to keep the amulet hidden in his or her own home; that the PC is dumb enough to invite a hurt ghoul into his or her house after an "auto accident"; and that the PC will either go to sleep or leave (with the ghoul still in the house!) so that the ghoul can be discovered looking for the amulet.

Circle of Friends has an odd hook: a pharmacist comes to the PCs with a bottle of wine, which, he has just discovered, contains a strange, well-preserved tiny octopus-like creature. I guess the PCs are supposed to be intrigued enough to investigate where this bottle came from, because the scenario (one of the longer ones in the book at five pages) leads to a coven of aristocratic would-be cultists and the possible summoning of a demon from beyond. As I said, I'm not sure about the hook but the story itself is passable, if a bit pedestrian.

Ghostnet starts with the PCs coming across a passage in a book published a few years previously that mentions a meteor is on its way to destroy the Earth. The PCs are supposed to track down the book's writer to investigate. Later, while on a small plane with the writer's daughter, the meteor coincidentally appears--but fortunately, it's much smaller than thought and doesn't create any sort of catastrophe other than carrying with it a Parasite of Daoloth.

Painted in a Corner also starts with the PCs coming across a passage in a book. Again (I'm not sure why), the PCs are supposed to want to track down the author of the book. As they arrive at his house, however, they discover that malign trees are blocking their way. If they make it inside the house, it turns out the author has been trapped in the house for weeks. The plot then gets a bit weird (involving the book's writer creating strange paintings somehow responsible for the evil outside), and the house will be besieged by the monsters. This scenario is a little more open-ended then some of the others and has the potential to make for some really tense drama as the PCs feel more and more like they're trapped in a no-win, no-escape situation.

Where Satan Fell puts the PCs on the trail of whatever was responsible for slaughtering an entire herd of cattle. No answers are provided, as the mini-encounter is concerned with the PCs falling into a hole full of maggoty dead rabbit carcasses. Very gross, I grant you that, but what the heck is the Keeper supposed to do after that?

Mouthbreathers is a decent scenario that sees the PCs traveling to an isolated English village to discover a pack of Deep Ones nearby. The Deep Ones aren't attacking people and are quite sick from being away from fresh water for several weeks, so the PCs are faced with an interesting question of what to do with them.

Horror Man is the first of five linked encounters. It has the PCs investigating a strange assault on a local bank clerk. The crime scene and victim interview could provide some interesting moments, but then the scenario summarily ends with no information on who the attacker really was--the PCs will discover that the victim can't lead them to the attacker, and that "there is no other line of inquiry worthy of the investigators' perseverance."

Stone Shifter takes place about a week later. Here, a quarry worker has been decapitated by a gravel crusher in what could only be murder. The PCs travel to the quarry to interview the victim's co-workers, and if they later decide to stake out the place will see the creature (a "Horror Man", zombie-like thing) responsible for the attack. The Horror Man does some interesting and creepy things, and if "killed" will vanish into thin air.

Crab Canon takes place later, after "any reasonable duration of recess." The PCs are intrigued by the announcement of an impending concert and decide to attend the performance. The music begins to drive people insane, a fire breaks out, and the performers are revealed to be Horror Men like the creature encountered in the previous scenario. PCs who investigate a trap door under the stage discover an outlandish contraption responsible for the strange music and the fact that Serpent People have been experimenting on cloning humans and have set-up a secret laboratory for the purpose. My description may make it sound cheesy, but it's really quite good. The scenario has some great atmosphere and mood to it, is creative, and has just the right touch of weird-horror elements. A great distillation of some of Lovecraft's more SF type of stories.

Lazy Eye takes place about a week after the destruction of the concert hall in the previous scenario. It's a much more basic encounter, involving four Horror Men having holed themselves up in the basement of a nearby house.

Watering Hole is the conclusion to the linked encounters. Following up on a tip about Horror Men sightings, the PCs are led back to the rubble of the burned-down concert hall. They discover that the Serpent People laboratory was not completely destroyed by the fire, and is still active. The last monstrous creation is set free and attacks the PCs, but they have a chance to stop the Serpent People's plans for good.

Taken as a whole, I wouldn't recommend Minions. Most of the encounters provided suffer from dubious adventure hooks and won't save the Keeper much prep time because he or she would have to fill in a lot of detail to make them playable. A handful of the encounters do include some clever and interesting ideas, and the Horror Man linked encounters could provide a few sessions of fun. The bottom line: I wouldn't pay a lot for Minions, but it's not worthless if it could be found cheap.

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