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Colonial Terrors Monograph Review


Colonial Terrors: Call of Cthulhu Adventures Prior to the American Revolution

Chaosium MULA Monograph 58pp
Author: Jeff Woodall
Cover Art: Matt Zeilinger
Interior Art: Jeff Woodall


Published October 2011

Credit to Jeff Woodall for seeing potential in the colonial period of American history and to whoever got Matt Zeilinger to do the cover art. Unfortunately the content and interior art don’t begin to live up to what the cover promises.
The cover tells us that the author of any given monograph is responsible for editorial and layout but these are so far short of the mark that the ‘significant value and entertainment’ also promised on the cover are not delivered. The review is going to be critical throughout, not because I am measuring this against professional work by Kevin Ross set in the same era (currently held by Sixtystone Press) which I have been lucky enough to see, but because it doesn’t meet minimum expectations for a published product. There are frequent typos, missing statistics and unfinished sentences throughout. One building location is crudely mapped but there are no others on any scale. There are roughly four pages of sourcebook material which, to indicate the lack of detail, would only tell you the damage, rate of fire and range of a musket without going into any of the issues around using black powder. The scenarios are each introduced with most of a column of italicised flavour text, but lack overviews for the keeper so that new elements keep appearing. It’s not well laid out and the amount of errors and gaps suggests we are looking at a draft rather than something that was intended to be finished.

SPOILERS

The linked scenarios all assume the investigators are smugglers, operating outside British colonial law, encountering gruesome and mythos-driven events. Annoyingly, the scenarios begin without saying much about motivation It seems to be to please John Hancock. Instead most of a column is spent suggesting that it might be an idea to have the investigators time-travelling back from the twentieth or twenty-first century. This is a good indicator that not much engagement with the actual period (1768) is expected. The discovery of the innkeeper as a cannibal and the zombie victim in the first scenario shows some promise. Unfortunately the suggestion that the villain simply gained this aberration from "a village of cannibals" in Africa is offensive. After this an encounter with British forces is offered to "give the players a bit of a break from dealing solely with mythos encounters". The section ends with a pointless list of names of minor characters that might have been intended to be statted.

The second section introduces the main villain thus: "Caleb Durmont is a middle-aged man with graying hair and blues that seemed privy to a private jest a full of mischief" (sic) The smugglers search Newport to investigate the disappearance of one of their contacts (imprisoned by Durmont) and encounter all sorts of red herrings: A missing doctor, another missing smuggler, ghouls, a ghoul cult, a voodoo cult, a female vampire and entourage, another sorcerer and a haunted house, before facing Durmont and his zombie pirates. Not a graveyard smash, at least for me.

The third linked scenario is set in occupied Saundersville where an inept ally of Durmont’s has conjured formless Spawn of Tsathoggua (Sanity loss 1/1d0!) that now stalks and consumes its way through the town’s inhabitants. There is again a long list of names without stats. Even the captain of the troops has 'Str, Con, Size' etc. listed with no values.

Vengeance of the Soldier’s Wife sends the surviving smugglers back to Hancock to investigate the deaths of two tough allies, who were involved in the murder of a British sargeant whose wife has witch-like powers. This scenario, which takes the investigators into a pocket universe where they will be inside a doll’s house stalked by murderous dolls, is surprising and potentially interesting but is very poorly executed. None of the Dollmaker’s stats are filled in, for example, and all we learn is that she is "a quite woman who is actually quite disturbed" (sic).

Smugglers Cove is extremely desultory, telling us in two and a half sides that there is an island with a lighthouse which contains the ruins of a serpent man city recently used as the nest for a Chthonian. A French Werewolf in New England does what it says in the title, but relies on investigators not being live to the possibility of a double bluff.

Three of the five "pre-gens" in the Appendix don’t actually have stats. Some 11 occupations are usefully listed before the last paragraph suggests the campaign could continue. There are a set of by-the-numbers word-processed handouts.


VERDICT

Overall, this is a very frustrating monograph. There is, despite all my criticism, the sense that Jeff Woodall knows how to run a fun session or series of sessions of play but, as a writer, he hasn’t really got the tone of Call of Cthulhu, the attention to detail or the historical feel that would make this monograph begin to touch the potential of the colonial period. As a result there is ultimately nothing to recommend about this monograph and, despite the provisos on every monograph cover, purchasers should expect a more complete product than this.

1 Comments

Thank you for this review. The Google+ forums brought me here in looking for more information about this Monograph, and your review helped a lot.