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[OSSR]In Soviet Russia, Cthulhu Eats You
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 11, 2017 2:40 am    Post subject: [OSSR]In Soviet Russia, Cthulhu Eats You Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

This is going to be a bizarre sort of OSSR, as it's more like a multi-product rant stretched out over a period of days. Unlike most OSSRs, where I rant over a single product for a period of days. But let me start at the beginning.

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Okay, so Call of Cthulhu and it's umpteen third-party accessories, spin-offs, fan additions, etc. don't actually have even coverage of the world. Or different time periods. There's entire sub-game lines devoted to the United Kingdom, and entire continents that almost never get any coverage. Sometimes obscure corners get surprising amount of detail...


Lovecraft did not set any stories in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

ANyway, Russia has been on my mind recently for...reasons...

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...and the thing is CoC & co. have devoted multiple supplements to Russia. It's just that they all...kind of suck...and...none of them actually go together. It's sort of amazingly dysfunctional. Some of it you can kind of understand why it doesn't work, and some of it you...or at least I...cannot.

Anyway. So, one post a day, one product a day, until I run out. Let's start out with:



"Glozel Est Authentique!" is a third-party (but Chaosium-approved!) set of adventures from Theatre Of The Mind Enterprises, Inc. Produced in 1984 when the height of RPG art and layout technology was halftone.

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It consists of two scenarios: the eponymous "Glozel Est Authentique" (which takes the interesting case of the Glozel affair, and adds the Knights Templar and Shub-Niggurath cultists to somehow make it less interesting), and the one we care about: "Secrets of the Kremlin."

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In 1928ish (the book is vague), and digging the foundation for Lenin's mausoleum has uncovered the "Lost Library of Ivan the Terrible," which includes a Greek translation of the Necronomicon, which Stalin has translated into Russian one Sanity-shriven Russian linguist at a time. He also found a Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath down there and started feeding it the contents of insane asylums as he ordered Russian scientists to discover its secrets.

Quote:
He was convinced, however, that Ivan's tunnels held even greater secrets, in chambers and passageways as yet undiscovered. He brought in various Soviet authorities on the underground Kremlin, but none could help. They were all shot.


Flash forward to 1931, and the actual beginning of the adventure: the PCs are anonymously hired to go to Russia, posing as journalists, to find a Russian scientist. Whom Stalin had kidnapped to find out what else is hiding under the Kremlin. Cue opening theme. Players should know shit is getting real quickly when they find out that the password for their Russian contact is "Nodens."

Scene two involves a stopover from <where ever they start> to Berlin, since they're taking the Berlin-Warsaw-Moscow railway. This is basically an excuse to let PCs make Library Use rolls. Then, on to Moscow!

...where the plot immediately gets complicated, because there are two competing cults in Moscow: the Nodens Brotherhood, and a rival Shub-Niggurath Cult ("the latter cult has a name, but it cannot be accurately pronounced by the human larynx.") Both cults know more than the PCs and are (by shenanigans) trying to suborn them into working for them. Through one contact or another, the PCs learn how to access the tunnels beneath the Kremlin.

At this point, the adventure effectively devolves into a dungeon-delve.

One slightly bizarre possibility is that the PCs actually stumble across an unguarded Stalin and his family. The Dark Young is guarded by 5-6 blind men with flamethrowers. I'm not sure how they thought that was supposed to work, but it seems like pretty D&D-ish thinking. Then we get "The Final Secret" - turns out Ivan the Terrible had a shoggoth down there as well, it smells (?) the Dark Young and the two collaborate by secreting their respective corrodants (?), and have scheduled a breakout for the morning after the PCs arrive in the tunnels. Which hopefully gets the PCs a chance to find the scientist they came for and escape Russia.

From a gameplay perspective: this is kind of late Cold War meets D&D, without embracing either. Remember, it's set in 1931, so WWII hasn't happened yet. The tunnels aren't actually detailed enough to do a proper dungeon delve. Railroady as hell getting the PCs to the tunnels too.

The Russian perspective: The whole scenario is filled with Russian stereotypes, including a GRU honeypot I skipped over because...fuck it. That said, lots of wikipedia-bait about the Kremlin and the historicity of its secret tunnels. Which works out fairly well. I mean, it's not enough to actually run a game in Moscow, but you're not exactly sight-seeing. You arrive on the train, do a press junket, talk to some cultists (who mysteriously disappear and never show up again) and arrive in the tunnels.

The Mythos perspective: Absolutely nothing in this scenario appears, as far as I can tell, anywhere else. It adds no new monsters or books (except an unstat'd Russian translation of the Necronomicon you can't find and loot anyway; if the PCs make it to Dungeon 5 they can steal the Greek Necronomicon, though). No new spells, the cults are essentially formless, and never appear again.

This is kind of understandable as it's a third-party product, but it feels like a disappointment. The idea of Stalin with a Necronomicon and Russians studying Mythos resources and competing cults in Moscow itself seems like an interesting setting. And kind of is, in a much later product...
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Longes
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 11, 2017 8:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Huh. This whole thing is canon in Delta Green. :|
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 11, 2017 2:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Parallel continuity; I think "Glozel Est Authentique" was published by the folks that founded Pagan Publishing and published Delta Green, but I'm a little hazy on the details. Anyway, moving on to something more substantial:



Guide to the Eastern Front (2013) for Achtung! Cthulhu is basically as close as Call of Cthulhu roleplaying ever got to a dedicated Russian supplement. A!C itself is probably one of the better heartbreakers out there, since it manages to do most of the things that CoC regularly fails at: develop an interesting, integrated setting with good production values on the books and original material that doesn't suck and story hooks and all that kind of thing. The only place it falls down is mechanics, because it uses a BRP variant running parallel to Savage Worlds.



We're not going through every detail, so here's the skinny: Guide to the Eastern Front starts off by hitting all the expected occult greatest hits of Russia (Rasputin, von Ungern-Sternberg, etc.) and then starts in on the Mythos additions - Russian-style. Lovecraft wrote basically nothing about Russia and few other writers in the Mythos even mention it, so they had fairly free rain here. The big one is that the Tunguska Blast was actually a Great Old One impacting the planet...but there are plenty of weird ones.

The Brain Institute of the VKP has saved Lenin's brain, using half-understood Mi-Go technology, and a cult has formed with quasi-Egyptian symbolism to re-insert him in a body. This is insane and I love it.


This is the end-goal.

Institute 21 is a branch of the NKVD, basically Russia's occult counter-espionage unit designed to counter Germany's Mythos-fueled counterpart. It's the sort of idea that fueled Charles Stross' Laundry series, and the GRU-P division on the SCP-wiki. They're a little disappointing, because the major things they have access to are Akraim, an experimental weather-weapon, and some other minor bits and pieces. They're in direct competition (in proper Russian style) with Otdel MI, the Bureau of Extraplanar Research, who are more aligned to Communism than sorcery, but it actually plays well with others and does expected things to secure Russian Mythos resources and investigate stuff. They also have energy pistols, based on some unobtanium they obtained in the Urals.


Pew pew and pass the vodka.

I like the juxtaposition and conflict between Institute 21 and Otdel MI; I think it works well. I just think it would have been more interesting to develop both...more. As it is, you kind of want them to be analogous to the Foundation with maybe one side being more intent on militarizing Mythos sources, but we only get hints of that kind of thing.

Then you have the independent cults and groups. Cthonians, Deep Ones, Shan, and Mi-Go show up about anywhere (and do). The real surprise is the League of Efraim - a cult of cannibalistic Mordiggian worshipers - ghouls being a major problem in Stalinist Russia, and occasioning Otdel MI to organize AK (Anti-Cannibal) squads. The Night Hags are a group of Cossack witches that take out enemy planes using shantaks. The Order of R'lyeh wants to skinny-dip with Deep Ones near Murmansk, and the Web of White Shadows are a distributed cult of Ithaqua worshipers - which should get more play in the frozen north of Russia, and does (in a different supplement for a different CoC sub-game).

There's a gazetteer of occult activity and sites - this is pretty good stuff, I would have liked more of this, since Russia is a big place. One of the things I like is the underused practice of giving certain of these places code names if they're on the NKVD's radar - for example, near the Tunguska impact site is Object 180, a classified airfield, and an abandoned, ruined Mi-Go city is Object 143. You could make an SCP-style wiki out of such things, and that would probably be a good thing.

There's a couple new artifacts, which you don't care about because they're never mentioned anywhere before or after, and some new tomes which...well, mostly the same. Following the sometimes-annoying practice of A!C, most of these "Russian" tomes aren't actually in the Russian language. Because Russia is big and old and polyglot. However, this leads to some fun moments; for example, the NKVD discovered a spell to torture ghosts, so they started recording the collection of every corpse so that if they need to interrogate someone, they can raise the ghost of a loved one and torture it in front of them. That's pretty edgelord-y, but a nice touch!

There's some Russian-themed beasties - most of these are adaptations of Russian folklore (Baba Yaga's chicken-leg hut becomes a tank on a pair of mechanical legs, that seems like a problem that should have stats). Brown Jenkins is re-imagined as a ratlike servitor-race called the Krysolud that are apparently numerous enough to take over abandoned cities, feasting on the corpses; and there are the original and kind of interesting Stalin Lampen, which are incorporeal things that attack planes and living things and drain their energy.

All in all, pretty dense for 120-page softcover.

Gameplay Perspective: This is about as good as you get for a CoC supplement. It leaves you wanting more (seriously, we have half a dozen cults for all of Russia? And Russia's Mythos history is somewhere between rudimentary and missing), but it does deliver the basics of what you would expect and want to play Mythos games in Russia. Which makes it basically unique as far as CoC products go.

Russian Perspective: The stereotypes aren't too thick and heavy. Modiphius is actually pretty good at doing the research, even if they occasionally go off at times. It's pretty brutal in its depiction of life under Stalin, but that's not...inaccurate...but it's more Enemy at the Gates than Eastern Promises.

Mythos Perspective: Some innovation, but then again, perhaps not enough to mention. It's not unfair to say that there are more occult shenanigans going on in London than there are in the entirety of Russia; this is because there's probably been going on 800 pages written about London and the Mythos in CoC, at least. I guess I really just want the equivalent of an SCP-wiki printed out and bound by just covering the warring Russian occult intelligence services.

Obvious gaps: no actual reference to any other CoC Russian Mythos mention (i.e. Stalin does not have a copy of the Necronomicon), and by the same token nothing outside of Achtung! Cthulhu references this book. So it's...useful...but it's a bit later than most CoC settings (1890s and 1920s). You can use it, but it doesn't explicitly go together with anything, and that's pretty typical of lots of Cthulhu books, sadly.
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Longes
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 11, 2017 3:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ancient History wrote:
The Night Hags are a group of Cossack witches that take out enemy planes using shantaks.


Heh. Is it weird that they sound less interesting than the actual real life Night Witches?

Cult-wise, the easiest source that is universally missed by the CoC writers are the Old Believers. These guys are a branch of orthodox christianity who refused to accept some 17th century reforms and went rogue splitting into a number of separate movements, including the priestless anarchists who declared that the church has gone mad and that all the rites should now be performed by elected lay people.
In the imperial Russia Old Believers were being oppressed, so a number of families and larger communities has left civilization to live in seclusion in the forests, especially in Siberian Taiga. This is basically a perfect setup for the PC adventurers stumbling onto a weird isolated community they can't leave because of the snow storms.
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 11, 2017 4:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Longes wrote:
Heh. Is it weird that they sound less interesting than the actual real life Night Witches?


Not at all. The real life Night Witches were awesome.

-Frank
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 12, 2017 1:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List



Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37 (2004) is "A Cthulhu Scenario Set in Stalin's USSR", and released as part of the Miskatonic Monograph series - that was basically fan-made adventures and supplements printed on demand with the Chaosium stamp of approval and a good chunk of the money.

Like a lot of CoC products, this is essentially standalone and it takes the daring technique of forcing the enduser to convince themselves that they need the product, because absolutely fucking nothing about the cover is going to do it for you. There is nothing about Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37 in any previous or subsequent book; this isn't an adventure-that-gives-you-what-you-need-to-play-in-Stalinist-Russia sneaky kind of sourcebook, it's just what it says on the tin. Let's get going, comrades!



I should add we do have this blurb:
Quote:

Keepers who feel inspired to run a longer-term game set in Stalin's Soviet Union might purchase a copy of Delta Green: Countdown and read the section "GRU Spetsialini Viedotstvo 8" in that book for one starting point. A good, general history of the Soviet Union is an excellent resource as well.

For those hoping to use previously published materials, there are two scenarios set in the U.S.S.R., though both are long out of print and without any immediate connection to this work:

"Secrets of the Kremlin" by E. S. Erkes in Glozel est Authentique (T.O.M.E., 1984)

"Sleigh Ride" by Steve KLuskens and Liam Routt in Fearful Passages (Chaosium, 1992)


The skinny: it is March 11, 1933, and the PCs are GRU agents (disguised as Telegraph Service of the Soviet Union, TASS) are assigned to figure out what the hell is going on at Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37. Bizarrely, this starts out with the agents arriving at Red Army Depot 945 to requisition supplies (no grenades, need a Luck roll to get the delousing agent, etc.) This is followed by the long slog through dreary, starving Russian countryside to the remote station...


This includes an encounter with a mutated rabbit.

Seriously, the writers went out of their way to try and bleak this story to hell and gone, and it sometimes crosses over the line into unintentional hilarity.

Quote:
Viewing the abominable pony causes a Sanity loss of 1/d4, though a bonus of +1 Sanity may be given to whoever puts it out of its misery.



Once they get to the tractor station...well, long story short, it's a pair of Colours From Out of Space. The PCs have no effective way to fight them. There are no tomes (okay, there's a chemistry book with some Sanity-draining annotations scribbled in the margins, but nothing useful), no spells or artifacts. The best solution available is to jury-rig an electromagnet, and even that doesn't kill it, just wards it off...as long as you have gasoline to power the generator.

It's basically a scenario you can't win.

Which isn't unknown for a Call of Cthulhu game. You're not supposed to be rescuing dragons and killing princesses here. But it does question what the whole point of the scenario is, since the best way to survive with life, limb, and Sanity mostly intact is to turn back as soon as you get to Russian Shithole #1. The ideal way to "win" this scenario is...not to play. Whoo.



Also, there's notes on using the Tunguska Event as a possible red herring. Which would be funny if Guide to the Eastern Front were being used.
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DrPraetor
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I think this is okay, as long as the players signed up for it.

There are people who legitimately want to play as the unfortunates in a horror story; often, there is no way to win in these scenarios and "don't buy the house at all" is the correct play in that sense. That goes double for any story taking place in Russia, where even comedies (like the Twelve Chairs) have the basic moral: get the hell out of Russia.

To translate this into a system usable by single-celled organisms:
1) If you are in Russia, continue to move in a straight line.
2) If you are not in Russia, tumble randomly.
as an emergent property, this will tend to get you out of Russia.

The problem with Call of Cthulhu is not that you have this sort of adventure, but that people will try to rope players into this sort of adventure without their consent.
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 12, 2017 3:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

That seems like a totally wasted opportunity. Playing the Soviet Union completely straight, where people are really trying to radically improve peoples' lives and a lot of their ideas are bad and a lot of people are just trying to make a quick buck in a power vacuum and the power vacuum exists in the first place because the previous government was illegitimate and also evil and incompetent, sounds like the potential is really there. If you really wanted to do bleak cosmic horror, the fact that some of the planned farming practices aren't going to work and people are going to die by the thousands without any maliciousness from anyone is a level of horror that Cthulhu books rarely touch upon.

Having there be monsters you can't effectively fight is such a fucking let down compared to the actual horror of the period: that there are situations that are going to kill lots and lots of people and you're going to fight and you're going to win sometimes and lots and lots of people are going to die anyway. It's like the fucking watch scene at the end of Schindler's List. Way worse than a couple of monsters that will eat a few people.

Add some dieselpunk and tesla coils and some zombie Nazis and shit so that people will actually play, and you got the makings of a really effective horror setting. Just... not really anything remotely similar to what was on offer here.

-Frank
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amethal
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 11:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I really like Machine Tractor Station Kharkov 37 as a Call of Cthulhu horror story. The Colour Out of Space leads to massive increases in local grain production, with commendations and medals all round, and then the grain turns out to be utterly inedible. So people starve to death. Taking what was already going to be a gigantic human tragedy, and adding an uncaring mythos monster to make it even worse for a specific village, worked for me as a horror story. It’s much more to my taste than Achtung!Cthulhu style “war office scientists experiment with using Colours out of Space to power their searchlights”.

However, there’s no way I’d run it as an actual role-playing game adventure.

Even taken on its own terms – it is clearly a one-shot, nobody is expected to be running a GRU campaign of which this is just the latest instalment, and presumably you’d only consider it for a group of “purist”-style Call of Cthulhu players who love things as bleak as possible – I think the “successful” outcome is still too hard to achieve, and if by some miracle you do manage to pull it off the payoff is not big enough.

And if you like the Soviet aspect to the campaign, then maybe you’d want an adventure in which all the characters don’t die the first time they meet the monster. The Trail of Cthulhu rulebook has a brief description of what a Soviet campaign might look like, and the most interesting part for me was that officially the mythos cannot exist, as it contradicts Communist doctrine. So the PCs have to suppress all mythos elements when they report to their superiors, unless they want to be sent to a “re-education centre”. It’s kind of hard to include that element if nobody lives long enough to report anyway.

Maybe there’s something about the USSR which gives scenario writers the urge to go for TPK as the default ending. I don’t know if “The Terror” is going to be covered in this thread, but it does the same thing.

“Sleigh Ride” (mentioned in the blurb in MTSK37) , on the other hand, is an action-packed romp through Siberia in search of the Yeti, and the characters might even get rescued by the secret police at one point, so the bleakness doesn’t have to be turned up to 11.
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 8:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

amethal wrote:

Maybe there’s something about the USSR which gives scenario writers the urge to go for TPK as the default ending. I don’t know if “The Terror” is going to be covered in this thread, but it does the same thing.

We're going to get to that one. But first...



Why are we doing Cold Harvest (2014)? Because it's essentially the exact same function module as Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37.

Seriously. It's 1937, the PCs are NKVD agents sent off to Far Buggerfuck, Russia to find out why crop production has fallen off, where they come across a creepy village full of mutants and it's all caused by an unkillable pair of Lloigor. And they can't win.

Quote:
Keepers must be aware that Cold Harvest is not winnable in the classic sense. Players are thrust into a situation that they must cope with and try to make the best of. While it's possible the investigators learn that something odd is behind the strange events at Krasivyi Oktabyr-3, and they might also learn what the creature is, the investigators are unlikely to come face-to-face with it. Instead, the investigators will be faced with a difficult decision. Do they commit an innocent family, or possibly an entire village, to either execution or a corrective labor camp to save them from a monster that is slowly killing them? Given the nature of Soviet society and politics in 1937, it's unlikely that a happy resolution will be found. however, the Communist Party will expect the agents to reach a satisfactory resolution or find themselves the subject of a purge.


I honestly can't say why this scenario made it this far, when Chaosium was already selling a substantially similar product. Maybe it was somebody's baby. Probably nobody cared. Let's be honest, nothing that happened in another Chaosium product ever really effects anything in any other, so they're essentially all standalone to a large extent. Again, sometimes the bleakness of the scenario gives way to hilarity: one of the better endings is just to deport everyone in the village to a work camp in Siberia, as that will get them away from the Lloigor, for which gracious action the Keeper is supposed to award the PCs 1d4 SAN. On the plus side, anyone that moves away from Cursed Village #2 sees their mutations heal up (although they may still die of pneumonia), while everybody that stays behind dies (some of them from pneumonia). Seriously, it's written like that in the book. I can't make it up. Pneumonia is the #2 villain in this scenario in terms of lives at risk, right in front of the PCs and behind the Lloigor.



That's about the scope of it. I will say, Cold Harvest at least has better graphics and layout, with plenty of backwards-facing Cyrillic-esque letters.

The closest thing to an interesting mechanic involves the Credit Rating skill:

Quote:
Redefining Credit Rating
Credit Rating is an important skill for investigators in Soviet Russia, however it is used in a slightly different way. Instead of a measure of monetary worth and buying power, it's primarily a tool for comparing and contrasting an investigator's standing within the Party. It's used if an investigator needs a favor from a commanding officer or additional equipment for an operation.

The Soviet Union, and the NKVD are bureaucracies of the highest order. There's a chain of command to be followed and trying to bypass the chain of command by requesting help from someone above an immediate superior makes a Credit Rating skill check Hard or Extreme at the Keeper's choice.

Note: Cold Harvest uses CoC7th edition rules, which introduced the idea that the difficulty of what you're trying to do modifiers your skill - sort of like what Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying figured out a decade or so earlier.

The golden pineapple of this book is "Appendix C: Integrating Cold Harvest with Other Soviet Scenarios." Y'know, for if you want to run a campaign set in Cthulhu's icebox.



Some of the comments on these are fantastic:

Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37 wrote:
No work is needed to easily tie this scenario with Cold Harvest. [...] Because the investigators arrive as Kracyivi Oktabyr-3 while its residents are still alive, they might believe they have a chance to save everyone.


Shadows of the Kremlin wrote:
Ostensibly set in 1931, a little work is required to change this scenario.

I love how they just completely fucking ignore that this basically means jettisoning half the "scenario" in exchange for "You're NKVD agents investigating some weird tunnels or shit in Moscow. Try not to run into Stalin."

Shadows of Leningrad wrote:
The Keeper might also want to reduce the number monsters to make this scenario fit more with the low-action content of most of the other scenarios set in Soviet Russia.

"This scenario doesn't suck as much as the others, so you need to inject more suck."

Terror wrote:
Another easy one to integrate. Change the date from 1932 to 1936.

We'll get to both of these last two.

Weirdly, no mention of "Sleigh Ride," Delta Green, etc.

Because Tractor Station and Cold Harvest are functionally identical, let's do these bits together:

Gameplay Perspective: Both of these adventures are railroads to nowhere. Seriously, the whole plot consists of "You will be driven on a straight line to remote fucking village X, and then it's up to you what to do once you get there! You can't win, so have fun." Seriously, if the PCs abuse their authority to stage an orgy with the mutants in a farmhouse, that's really not any more or less effective than any other tactic. There's no real mystery to solve beyond "Invisible fucking monster is corrupting things, get the fuck out." and nothing much you can do against said invisible monsters. Hell, if you take one look at the village and order everyone to Siberia at gunpoint you are rewarded.

Russian Perspective: Cold Harvest goes into a little more detail about the NKVD and life in remote bugfuck Russian farming villages, both try to get across the unrelenting rural horror that is normal Russian life, where the Whateleys could be dropped in and nobody would blink. I feel like maybe there's a drinking game in this somewhere.

Mythos Perspective: Lloigor and Colours from Out of Space are the low-level closet trolls of the Mythos. Both are difficult to deal with either with advanced technology or magic, and neither of these scenarios provides any tools to do so.

Obvious Gaps: Neither of these scenarios is a real introduction to the Mythos in Russia. They're not tied into anything bigger, even with Cold Harvest's suggestions for a half-assed NKVD campaign, there's nothing tying them together, they're just perfectly standalone. If there was only a tome that could provide some connective thread...

I probably shouldn't bitch too much, because "The Colour Out of Space" was pretty stand-alone as a Mythos story. But...it just seems incredibly fucking lazy. I mean, you've got an NKVD investigation of two separate Mythos incidents. You couldn't extrapolate a little from there? You don't have to go full X-Files, but maybe give a hint of a bigger game for Keepers and players to work with. But no, that's too much effort, apparently.


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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 9:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

In Soviet Russia, cosmic horror is the default state.

You should gain sanity for finding out that the problems of a region are because there are fucking monsters there. You might not have the tools to fight them effectively, but at least you know what the enemy is and that killing them would solve problems. What are you supposed to do about Pneumonia? If it turned out the enemy was just poor sanitation and a deficiency in vitamin D, what the fuck are you going to do? There's no final victory, no ending theme song, just trying to get as many bacteriaphages and/or antibiotics as the war effort can spare and trying to organize sick people who can barely stand to go dig a well farther from the latrines. People are still going to die, and the only accomplishment is that some of them are going to die later than if you hadn't made the effort.

-Frank
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2017 12:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
In Soviet Russia, cosmic horror is the default state.

You should gain sanity for finding out that the problems of a region are because there are fucking monsters there.

Sig'd
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Winnah wrote:
No, No. 'Prak' is actually a Thri Kreen impersonating a human and roleplaying himself as a D&D character. All hail our hidden insect overlords.


FrankTrollman wrote:
In Soviet Russia, cosmic horror is the default state.

You should gain sanity for finding out that the problems of a region are because there are fucking monsters there.
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DrPraetor
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2017 1:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/weekend-update-olya-povlatsky/n32901?snl=1


It's Call of Cthulhu. It's a fair point that real Russia was more-awful than any of Lovecraft's stories; but, the players have signed up for some Eldritch Horror and they really ought to get it.
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2017 1:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

You can't have your cake and eat it to in Call of Cthulhu. More perhaps than many other roleplaying settings, it is acceptable to have a Kobyashi Maru scenario, where minimizing your losses is not just acceptable but the best you can hope for. But you need to give your players some reason to go on, and ideally you'd organize the setting in such a way as to have a consistent narrative, not just random, disconnected monsters in an otherwise historical setting. Even in Lovecraft's stories, humanity can win small victories as the Fed raid Innsmouth or a trio of college professors banish a son of Yog-Sothoth.

As Frank points out, the particular bleakness of Soviet Russia in the 20s-40s should make for an interesting setting, especially against the juxtaposition of the Mythos. Normally, you see conflicts of man against nature, man against mythos...and those exist in Mythos Russia. But the main conflict is really man against man - agents of a faceless, merciless bureaucracy, pursuing high ideals and running hard against practical limitations and human foibles. The Soviet system was a grand failure, and the scale of it is still hard to conceive for anyone that didn't experience it. Russians didn't need Lovecraft or Einstein to tell them that they are insignificant, temporary blips, doomed to a mayfly existence and little more than ants to greater powers - for them, that's Tuesday.

But you take the powers and resources of such a state and devote them - or even a fraction of them - to investigating the Mythos? That could be interesting. Because Russia does have a rich and interesting history, and the dynamic between competing internal powers, the intersection of philosophy and politics, state-sponsored atheism and religion, should provide a rich source of materials for a campaign.

Instead...it doesn't. Partially this is because Chaosium does the usual half-assed bit where they can AND WILL publish anything, because they selectively ignore basically whatever they've published before, and there's like a 50% chance any given rule only exists because you imagined it.
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Starmaker
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2017 9:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

DrPraetor wrote:
It's a fair point that real Russia was more-awful than any of Lovecraft's stories

It still is.
Starving people steal food, get sentenced to slavery.
Guy writes to regional rep (like you'd write to a congressperson), gets locked up in a madhouse.
Teenage US citizen gets sent to Siberia by her US relatives to be enslaved and deliverancedm runs away after 15 years.
Ingushetia is ruled by rapists and murderers.
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SlyJohnny
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2017 12:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

As a player, I don't mind bleak. I don't mind unkillable monsters in scenarios where the goal is "escape" or "survive until daybreak", either. But I'm always turned off by scenarios where the outcome would've been the same if I'd done nothing.

If you want the players to go somewhere horrible and get murdered, send them on a fetch quest where the item or person is easy enough to find and retrieve, but now they're smack in the middle of monster country, and have them barricade themselves in somewhere until the sun comes up, or travel back through haunted woods in the dark.


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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2017 8:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List



Shadows of Leningrad (2010) from Goodman Games is part of their "Age of Cthulhu" adventures...which is basically the same thing as T.O.M.E. 27 years later. Maybe not surprising, this is one of the more entertaining...albeit bizarre...of the Russian Mythos adventures.

1927, an American expatriate painter Charlotte Geoffrey (sister of Justin Geoffrey, the mad poet of Arkham from Robert E. Howard's "The Black Stone") dies in Leningrad, setting in motion events...

CoC adventures are a little weird, in that they either like to front-load with a lot of backstory or keep all the "surprises" for the end of the module; this is a front-loader. So we get a chunk of backstory about the yeti and a Russian cult of Ithaqua, which was led by the Orkonov family; they were mostly all killed by Tsar Peter the Great, by the last descendant married Geoffrey and lived with her in the rebuilt ancestral home (which had the old temple to Ithaqua in the basement).

Anyway, Geoffrey committed suicide, and both her husband and her daughters wound up in an insane asylum; the PCs are here to buy her remaining paintings. Or maybe they want to find The Book of Dark Winter, the central manuscript of Orkonov's family cult. Or whatever. The scenario throws out a couple of ideas for why the PCs might be there, but the assumption is that once they see the mystery they'll get drawn into it...or something.

Goodman Games uses "differentiated skill checks" (that would be +/- percentile modifiers to rolls), a preview of what you'd see in 7th edition, even though this was nominally for 5.6.1. They also recommend that all non-Russian characters be pitied and "given a base percentage of 50% in Other Languages (Russian)."

Anyway, the PCs arrive in Leningrad, and are immediately being tailed by the OGPU (secret police) - pretty much just as standard operating procedure. From there on, it's pretty much a sandbox with different "scenes" set at locales. So, Scene One is at the Orkonov dacha, where they're greeted by the sight of a yeti in a butler's uniform.


Be with you in a minute.

At the point where you have a talking, partially lobotomized ape serving you tea and vodka, I would hope you get the subtle hint that not all is right in Russia. Anyway, Jonah (the yeti's name is Jonah) gives them the run of the house, which includes finding a magical artifact called the Medallion of the Bad Wolf (which, despite the name, turns you into a vampire - at the small cost of 20 SAN). The house is actually a bit of a PC trap, since:

1) It is decorated by Charlotte Geoffrey's paintings

2) Each painting calls for a SAN check

3) PCs are assumed to have caught sight of the paintings unless they are specifically stated to not be looking at them

4) PCs are automatically assumed to have their attention caught by the painting and look at them unless they specifically state they're not looking at the goddamn paintings. Seriously, there's a whole dark gods damned sidebar on exactly that. You could make twenty SAN checks in this house easy.

Anyway, aside from that there's a weird cuckoo clock, the enchanted paints she was using, a series of letters between Charlotte and her brother, a copy of The People of the Monolith, and the Orkonov's personal safe (which they can convince Jonah to open, and has fat stacks of cash - 50,000 rubles!)

There's also the basement, but they save that for Scene 4.

Anyway, Scene 2 is the Revolution Hospital, where the surviving family members are - Alexei is insane, Elena is insane and a cultist planning to summon and bind Ithaqua, and Katarina is a vampire whose first attempt is to get a PC alone to eat them by pretending to have a secret.


Child vampire? Ape butler? No, seriously, check and make sure this is a Cthulhu adventure.

Scene 3 is at the State Museum, where the PCs can coincidentally buy up the rest of Charlotte Geoffrey's paintings for the money they rifled from the Orkonov's safe; one of these paintings is technically important to the plot since it has a map to the Frozen Temple on the back. You also get to make a few more SAN checks for looking at her paintings, then fight 3 Enchanted Pythons.


I'm freesssing my asssetsss off! I'm cold-blooded, and thisss is Russsia in the fucking winter! Who booked thisss gig? They're not even Yig cultissstsss!

Investigators are supposed to be 2 and 2 together and figure out that Elena and her ballet instructor are trying to summon Ithaqua, but to do that they need kid vampire, the painting with the map to the Frozen Temple, and a staff-thingy. The PCs are supposed to have enough clues by this point to go back to the Orkonov dacha and check the basement for the ruined temple (accessed by setting the cuckoo clock at 2 minutes 'til midnight - look, you come from an insane family, you're lucky you didn't get a cocksmith [NSFW link] instead of a locksmith).

Anyway, faily temple has a copy of The Book of Dark Winter, half of a dying guy (literally, "his lower torso, from the waist down, is completely missing. He drag himself with his hands towards the investigators.") the PCs can question, three zombies, another medallion, and a Moon Beast! (PCs are not expected to fight the Moon Beast).

The PCs can then either head to the ballet theater to stop Elena's bloody version of Swan Lake or, if they've fucked up, head to the Frozen Temple of the Khanate.

Turns out, Elena's staff is a nifty device that converts the SAN people around her lose into temporary magic points. Nice drop! Unfortunately, to charge it up she's going to take a crowded theater full of people and make them lose a lot of SAN by staging a live murder or three on stage. PCs that sneak into the back can confront Boris (Elena's ballet coach/boyfriend/cultist), who is stealing mad stacks of cash (75,000 rubles) - dude, you're about to summon Ithaqua into the world. What the fuck do you need the money for?

Anyway, the showdown is supposed to go down in Scene 6, with the Frozen Temple of the Khanate. If the PCs had just bribed the Sanitarium to drug up Elena this would not have been an issue, but they probably didn't do that so now they have to face an indeterminate number of cultists, a couple yeti, some Gnophkehs, pissed-off kid vampire Katarina and (probably) staff-wielding minor sorceress Elena...and that's if Elena doesn't manage to summon and bind Ithaqua.

Rest of the book is pregenerated characters and handouts.

Gameplay Perspective: Quasi-linear sandbox. That's not a terrible format for CoC. The thing that kills me is the need to invent not one, but like four or five different unique-to-this-scenario artifacts for this particular scenario to play out. I mean, is it really that fucking hard to summon Ithaqua that we need vampire-making amulets and SAN-powered eldritch staffs and magic paints and a tome which doesn't actually have many relevant spells? Okay, The Book of Dark Winter has Dismiss Ithaqua, so it's not useless, but a certain amount of conservation of game mechanics is useful here.

Russian Perspective: We don't actually see a lot of Leningrad, despite this being Shadows over Leningrad. Whole thing is only 46 pages, and the Keeper is supposed to fluff pretty much everything. If you want to gear up on Russian period weaponry before going after the Frozen Temple, I hope your Keeper is packing another book with the stats!

Mythos Perspective: I find the yeti problematic. Not because the Mythos doesn't have room for ape people - "Arthur Jermyn" is totally a thing - but because the whole Abominable Snowman routine was supposed to be a cover for the Mi-Go. Also, I have no idea why we have vampires here. Like, at all. I can deal with the random moon-beast and the convenient zombies and even the poor enchanted snakes, but why the fuck does it matter that Katarina is a zombie? Why is that a thing? What the fuck does it add? Can't she just be crazy and think she's a vampire? I do like the fact that Russia has an ancient Ithaqua cult, though. That works out fine. I'd like it more integrated into the setting, but take what I can get.

Obvious Gaps: The basic assumption of this adventure is that the player characters 1) have no authority, and 2) are not bastards. If the Keeper was following the suggestion in Cold Harvest where this was part of an NKVD campaign, Elena and her boyfriend would probably be on their way to a work camp in Siberia and executed on the way there, job well done and pass the vodka.
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2017 10:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The whole Call of Cthulhu thing where people are supposed to not look at the disturbing paintings that foreshadow the nameless dread in act III is possibly the worst thing about Call of Cthulhu. It has a lot of really bad things about it, but that is certainly in the running for worst thing.

-Frank
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Longes
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2017 11:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

So what happens when someone becomes a vampire?
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2017 11:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Vampires are one of the non-Mythos creatures covered in the main Call of Cthulhu RPG book. It's pretty standard stuff. Drink blood, undead and lovin' it, etc.
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amethal
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2017 10:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

My problems with Shadows over Leningrad are :-

Either too many or not enough yetis (I’d prefer either no yetis, or lots of yetis like in Sleigh Ride). Having the odd yeti as window dressing is a waste.

Everybody needs to have “Speak Russian” for the adventure to work, which is ok, but just handing it out as a skill at 50% really isn’t in the spirit of the game – make them work for it (by which I mean, obviously, subject them to the merciless whimsy of the dice) and what if some poor sod has actually invested some precious points in Russian at character creation? It’s not like the adventure is giving everybody 50% in shotgun so the historian and the entertainer can contribute meaningfully to the big shootout at the end.

Unless I’m misremembering, there is nothing much to say what happens if the PCs fail – it’s bound to be very bad news for Leningrad, but what about the rest of the world? If it’s just a local issue, when the going gets tough the characters might think “You know what, let’s go home and let the authorities of this police state (who have been harassing us since we got here) sort out their own mess”.

This adventure would work just as well (or as badly) if you set it in some cold city that the characters actually care about, and where they can speak the language. From what little I know of the Age of Cthulhu line, they seem to like to use exotic locations, which is great in theory but here I think it actually detracts from the adventure.
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Longes
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2017 12:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

amethal wrote:
Unless I’m misremembering, there is nothing much to say what happens if the PCs fail – it’s bound to be very bad news for Leningrad, but what about the rest of the world? If it’s just a local issue, when the going gets tough the characters might think “You know what, let’s go home and let the authorities of this police state (who have been harassing us since we got here) sort out their own mess”.


Ithaqua joins the communist party and helps liberate the proletariat all over the world.
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Starmaker
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2017 3:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ancient History wrote:
Boris (Elena's ballet coach/boyfriend/cultist), who is stealing mad stacks of cash (75,000 rubles) - dude, you're about to summon Ithaqua into the world. What the fuck do you need the money for?

This is awesome characterization.
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Harshax
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2017 4:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Starmaker wrote:
Ancient History wrote:
Boris (Elena's ballet coach/boyfriend/cultist), who is stealing mad stacks of cash (75,000 rubles) - dude, you're about to summon Ithaqua into the world. What the fuck do you need the money for?

This is awesome characterization.


I've always judged a Keeper by their ability to properly portray cultists. They are, by virtue of their desire to interact with the Mythos and their belief that they'll benefit in the long run, completely insane. They should do stupid, illogical things. They also have opposable thumbs and often scare the shit out of me more thoroughly than the space monsters do.
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2017 8:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The problem with most CoC Russian scenarios is that you ask the question "Why is this set in Russia?" and there is not a good answer.



I'm not sure Terror (2005) ever had a physical release. I mean, maybe it did, but I've never seen a hardcopy. I only have the PDF through DriveThruRPG. We're in that weird point in time where the physical existence of documents can be nebulous and uncertain, while electronic copies are ubiquitous - sort of the opposite of the scarce occult tome problem in Lovecraft's day, and one of the main reasons that the Tome/Sanity mechanics of the 1970s just aren't workable in the 21st century. But I digress.

Quote:
Terror is a one shot scenario for Call of Cthulhu set in the Soviet Union during the reign of Joseph Stalin. It begins in February 1932 and is centered in the frozen city of Moscow.


For this scenario they are introducing two new skills, Bureaucracy and Party Knowledge. This is basically giving players two more things to fail rolls at, so meh.

Anyway, the scenario focuses around the aftermath of the Tunguska Blast, which was caused by:

Quote:
a larval outer god, within a strange dormancy phase. The action of its dreaming proto-brain creates waves of strange energy that alter all they touch, make men melt or transform, and drive the rare ones mad. In other words, it infects any living organism that comes in contact with it and transforms it into a “thing.” The “thing” has the ability to mutate itself into whatever it needs (tentacles, mouths, legs, etc…) to survive."



Seriously, we're going full John Carpenter already?

...the Tsars used prison labor to experiment on the meteor, one of whom was a young revolutionary named Josef Stalin.


An aside: There is a peculiar reluctance in some circles to ascribe much Mythos activity directly to Adolf Hitler; presumably because the concept of supernatural influence might mitigate someone who has essentially become one of the contemporary personifications for evil. That is...less of the case with Stalin, as we've seen. Weirdly, however, the specific depictions of Stalin seem to be "dude can look at a Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath or commune with a proto-Great Old One or read the Necronomicon in Russian without blinking." It's weird to me and I don't have a good explanation for it. It doesn't seem to be any effort to reduce his personal evil, just taking Stalin's "callousness" switch and crank that fucker up to 11.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled OSSR.

Basically, once in power Stalin orders the NKVD to retrieve the meteor from Tunguska for him, the NKVD gets it to Moscow before shit hits the fan...

Quote:
A NOTE ON THE “THING”

The main creature of this investigation is caused by being infected through contact with the meteor. It can affect all living tissue; even animals. Whoever is exposed to it will become one of the “things.” Remember, this is an intelligent creature and should be played as such.

It has the ability to mutate into whatever it needs to be; i.e. if it needs a tentacle to get away it grows one, if it needs legs to climb a wall it grows them. Also, any part of it is a whole, meaning if you cut off its hand, the hand is a new thing and can grow whatever it needs. The only restriction is that the thing cannot be larger than it originally was to begin with. For example: a human sized thing cannot grow to the size of an elephant and a hand-sized thing cannot be larger than a hand.


Seriously, they went full John Carpenter. There's not even a hint of pretense.

Anyway, the player characters are prisoners who are interrogated and then informed that the NKVD has officially held a trial in absentia where they've been found guilty of treason, and that officially they were executed twenty minutes ago. They're still breathing because the NKVD has a job for them: find out what is going on. The PCs are expendable, intelligent, resourceful, and if they don't take the job then everything happens like it did with their official records. It's more like the carrot and the stick, where the carrot is a lie.



The offer is literally made at gunpoint:
Quote:
At this point Rubashov pulls out a pistol from his coat pocket and asks the characters if they are willing to accept his offer. If any of the characters refuse or try to cut a better deal, Rubashov will shoot them without a second thought. The odds are that the characters will accept.

I would go through four, maybe five player characters easily in this scenario.

What follows is a pretty standard Call of Cthulhu "Follow That Clue!" train ride, the reward of which is finding The Thing. I'd like to emphasize at this point that there are few effective ways to kill The Thing, and the PCs uncover zero clues as to what it's vulnerable to, and it technically spreads by contact (although the stats don't back this up), so...they should basically all die at that point.

Along the way, they may uncover more of the mystery of the meteor and even catch a glimpse of Josef Stalin (if Stalin sees them eye to eye, they have to roll a check for 0/1d2 SAN Loss); they may also meet one of his personal mad scientists ("At this moment, he is inserting two long electrodes attached to a large battery into the writhing body of a headless monkey"), and another couple of Meteor Things (which are in cages; it's a shapeshifting intelligent monster, I'm not sure how that was supposed to work), some of which are mutated baboons (and thus called "Baboon Things" - even though the stats are, for all practical purposes, identical).

If a player is stupid enough to actually grab a chunk of the meteorite (which is about six inches around and weighs 100 pounds; the full rock is about six feet around), they have to save or become a shapeshifting Thing. Of course, the player that does this doesn't need to announce it to the rest of the table, the Keeper just passes them a note and...



Ultimately, the PCs are supposed to figure out what the rock does and its connection to Stalin, the PCs are attacked by some NKVD agents trying to keep Stalin's secret, and if they survive, they're supposed to turn their findings back in to their NKVD handler. Who declares that none of this ever happened and sends the PCs back to prison.

Quote:

Handout 2

As you grab the meteor, you feel a burning sensation within your veins and your heart begins to pound within your chest. Suddenly, there is a presence making itself know within your mind. It is dreaming and awaits its own rebirth. It will give power to the one who communes with it.

You are no more. The spirit of the meteor has infected you. You can change your physical nature in any way you need; whether it means a tentacle or two, a mouth on the back of your skull, or to separate your hand to escape destruction, you will decide. Your only purpose is to protect the secret of the meteor and the meteor itself. Stop any who try to destroy it. You now have several new abilities to use at your will:

Disguise: You have the ability to change yourself into any living thing you choose (even a perfect likeness of someone you know). However, a full transformation takes a full five rounds to complete.

Weapons: Tentacles 60% damage 1d4.

Bite 40% damage 1d6.

Armor: You only take minimum damage from all weapons. Fire, Acid, and Electricity do full damage.

Even though you have these new assets, your greatest weapon is secrecy. Hide your identity and secretly try to dispose of those that would dispose you.




Gameplay Perspective: Did all players at Call of Cthulhu convention games sit down at the table, ready, eager, and expectant of being assfucked? Because that seriously seems to be the thing going on here. Even in Shadowrun the idea that the Johnson betrays you became a cliche very early on, and that was a game that pretty much based itself on the PCs being professional criminals taking dirty jobs for money, so there was the whole "honor among thieves" aspect to it. This is just...you have to give a little more carrot and a little less stick. I get that they were trying to set the mood, but the mood is "Fuck this, I'm outie." Hell, what happens if all the PCs become Meteor Things?

Russian Perspective: You don't exactly get a street map of Moscow or a rundown on how the NKVD works; these things are all just sort of...assumed. Also, the whole focus on Stalin approaches creepy fetish levels.

Mythos Perspective: There are basically no Mythos references in this entire scenario. It's just a monster ripped out of a popular movie and crammed into somebody's Stalin fanfic. I was thinking earlier that Cold Harvest and Tractor Station had quite a The Thing vibe to them, being as they were remote frozen hellholes with a monster running around, but this dropped all fucking pretense...and was set in Moscow, for some reason.

Obvious Gaps: Despite promises that all the Meteor Things are intelligent, their main activities in this adventure seem to involve randomly killing people with no discernible goal. I mean holy shit, it's an infectious bio-agent that turns people; one of these assholes should drop it in the local water supply or something.



Aside from that...where do you put this? I mean, if somebody had been paying attention, they could have worked in at least the "Secrets of the Kremlin" connection and maybe Stalin was a player in the Mythos and thought his Russian Necronomicon could help him use this meteorite or something. But as it is it just seems...creepy.
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