Apart from being a truly terrific game, Call of Cthulhu also gave us in the 80s and 90s some truly fantastic adventures based on the works of Lovecraft. Masks of Nyarlathotep, Beyond the Mountains of Madness, Horror on the Orient Express, etc. are titles of adventures that should be in any serious (and some not so serious) enthusiasts. They were gritty, they were tough and they were very, very atmospheric.
Eternal Lies pays homage to those amazing adventures and provides with an adventure campaign that takes the players around the globe trying to unravel a mystery that took place 10 years before the adventure starts and confront another that reveals itself as they find themselves in the middle of a plot to destroy our planet as we know it.
In this occasion, though, this adventure is not for Call of Cthulhu. The game this adventure fits is Trail of Cthulhu instead, published by Pelgrane Press and written by Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws. However, and for reasons that will become clear as you read this review, this shouldn’t deter you from considering purchasing this adventure.
The first thing that caught my attention was the authors. Will Hindmarch, Jeff Tidball and Jeremy Keller. They are all well established and talented writers on their own right, so I was curious and excited about what they could bring. Excited enough to actually join the play test team and have a go at it myself. Stupidly enough, and because the adventure was, simply put, perfect, I didn’t submit a full report. Shame on me.
That left me seriously desperate to see this finished, which took over a year. Was it worth it?
Firstly the book. This is a hard back and very high quality book with nearly 400 pages of well packed content. The layout is the standard layout Pelgrane has us well accustomed to. Three easy-to-read columns with more than enough illustrations, icons and cartography to make sure we never get lost. And believe me, any help is welcome as this adventure is truly huge.
So, from the production point of view, I really have no objections. It is certainly worth the money you pay for it if you buy the book and the attention to detail leaves nothing to be desired.
Then you start to read and you can relate to fish after about 10 minutes. The adventure hooks you right away and pulls you towards it mercilessly. You can try to get away from it, but the pages keep turning, you keep reading and the whole experience becomes a truly enjoyable discovery.
To make matters even better, the whole adventure is full of fantastic advice, not just on how to run this adventure, but advice that will serve you very well in any other game, like the use of linking scenes, side stories and what to do with the PCs downtime and use their pillars of stability and sanity as motivations to continue with the adventure.
At the start of this adventure, the players are contacted and hired by a wealthy woman to find out what happened 10 years before, when her father and friends saw themselves involved in something that she doesn’t know anything about but had some serious consequences in their lives. What she doesn’t know is that they tried to stop the summoning of a monstrous entity and failed. Soon after the players accept, they will find themselves in the path of a mysterious substance called Nectar, a sort of drug that’s making quite a stir in the drug-taking community. To avoid spoilers, I will only say a cult is behind the substance and they are trying to get as many people hooked on the substance as possible. Why, who or what is truly behind Nectar is something you’ll have to buy the book for. Trust me, it’s worth it.
The players will have to take their characters all around the USA and then around the world in a huge campaign that has a lot of twists and turns, all of them perfectly managed and well controlled to make sure things don’t get out of hand.
This is a very long campaign and, to be honest, it shouldn’t be rushed. There is so much information in this book, and all the clues, hooks, plot points, scenes and characters have been so well laid out and carefully thought of that one is never far from the answer you need to help your players.
Furthermore careful consideration has been given to how the information is presented for the Keeper. One of my gripes with long adventures is the way information is sorted around the papers to make sure they are accessible and also with the amount of useless information presented. In this book everything has been geared to help and complete or compliment the adventure. Everything has been explained, from a timeline to how to use the material. General advice is scattered around and some ideas suggested on how to use the NPCs, locations, travel times… The lot.
Although Eternal Lies has what many people have considered to be an unoriginal plot (a cult trying to destroy the world and some characters trying to stop them) the way it’s been done and the reasons why it’s been done justify it without a problem.
Firstly I have to say it didn’t bother me at all that it had a plot device that’s well known. It didn’t because, as well as being perfectly congruous, it’s not “in your face” all the time. As the adventure unravels, the cult becomes more prominent, but never the full focus of the mission. They just happen to be there because it’s the way the main antagonist has to infiltrate humanity (see how I’m keeping things vague!). So don’t let the cult put you off, it really is there for good reasons.
The rest is perfect. It is, by far, the best product I’ve seen in 2013 that didn’t come out of a Kickstarter campaign. Beautifully written, very well illustrated and bound for life, as you’d want to make sure it can sustain the heavy duty opening and closing that running it needs.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is the ending of the adventure. I will not give details, but I will say the finale is as epic as you’d expect and want for, and they manage to make it so it is congruent and doesn’t feel farfetched – which considering we’re talking about a Cthulhu-esque adventure, it’s one hell of an achievement.
And things don’t stop there. Pelgrane Press is supporting this adventure quite well, with interactive maps, a whole musical suite to aid the mood of the adventure and ongoing conversations in forums, comments in their website and some plans for a podcast with a play through the adventure with an alternative ending to avoid spoilers (at the time of writing this review this was a plan that was being considered, so keep an eye on the Pelgrane site, subscribe to their newsletter and email or contact them to tell them to produce it… the more we ask for that, the more chances of it happening!).
So, I think it won’t come as a surprise if I give this adventure the full five stars treatment. I can’t recommend it enough and I doubt, very much, that anyone will regret buying this book.
Have an insanely amazing time!
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