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Reviewish: Crash Dive

Posted by Shimmin Beg , in review, scenario 06 March 2013 · 411 views

This is a spoileriffic review of Crash Dive by Steve Hatherley, from Fearful Passages.

This is a pretty hard one to evaluate because it's not exactly a scenario: it's somewhere between a training montage, a plot seed and a prologue. Crash Dive has the Investigators following up news of a valuable occult artefact, which proves to be somewhere in the wreckage of a light plane that crashed into a lake. They're expected to don diving gear and delve into the wreck, where they'll find the artefact and encounter nothing worse than sharp edges, murky waters, and a drunken boatman who's liable to get someone drowned if they don't watch out.

Mostly, the scenario is designed to introduce everyone to mechanics for diving, to be used in future investigations. In that respect it seems pretty decent. The background information is comprehensive enough to satisfy most, and the rules offered look solid and well-considered. They cover equipment, the impairment of skills underwater (including such nuggets as which wavelengths of light penetrate to various depths of the ocean), and the many health problems presented by diving, including the bends, hypothermia and nitrogen narcosis. If the intended course is followed, Investigators will get plenty of practice at using their new skills and gear, and dealing with a range of little oddities. The scenario helpfully offers a list of mild 'random encounters' that might surprise and alarm the Investigators.

The problem I have here is that the intended course isn't that obvious. Basically, with a setup like this, I think players may be focused on the long-term plot around the artefact, and view the retrieval itself as a problem to overcome, rather than a scenario in itself. Faced with a job for which they have no appropriate skills and which doesn't immediately look like Plot, they can basically choose between a) try it anyway; B) go away and do in-game training; or c) pay someone a few dollars to do it for you. Amateur diving is offered, but not supported mechanically (see later). CoC doesn't normally offer training as a mechanical option, so players need to work against their normal assumptions to pick that one.

The third option seems the most likely choice, and while it's reasonable that nobody is available locally, if they want to ship a diving team in, that's a perfectly sensible option It's equivalent to getting in an accountant to review some paperwork for you, or hiring a researcher or PI, rather than going on a week's intensive training. However, if they do go this route, they'll skip both learning the new skills and the scenario itself. On the other hand, there isn't that much to the scenario - no Mythos, no fights, no research, and quite a lot of sitting around for whoever isn't diving - so anyone persuaded to bite the hook may end up rather disappointed. I think this might just be one where you explain OOC to the players that this scenario is a fairly gentle means to an end, so they know what to expect.

Plotwise, the main event depends on things going quite a specific way. First, the Investigators do the diving themselves. Secondly, they allow a drunken boar of a farmer to captain the boat, because it's the only boat on the lake and he won't let anyone else do it. Thirdly, they allow the farmer to drink on board, and don't keep a sharp eye on him at all times. If all this pans out, then he'll suddenly decide to go home to get more liquor and start dragging the divers along the sea bottom, knocking the instructor unconscious and endangering both their lives.

There are quite a few ways players might derail this one, and if they react quickly enough they'll stop the disaster in its tracks anyway. Also, if Investigators get lucky with Spot Hidden rolls they might find the artefact immediately, before anything can go wrong. So on the whole, it's quite likely to be an uneventful scenario all round. That's not necessarily a problem, but it does push Crash Dive very much towards "small precursor to a Dreamlands scenario" rather than "scenario in its own right".

Nitpicking

As always, I have some niggles.

"Initially, Taylor views the investigators with suspicion. They ask too many questions and have 'official' stamped all over them. A successful Psychology roll confirms his feelings of discomfort: a successful Persuade roll gains his confidence until he gets to know them."

It's awkward when scenarios ascribe behaviours or attitudes to unknown Investigators. The party is at least as likely to be hard-boiled PIs, flamboyant dilettantes and nervous second-hand booksellers as anything remotely confusable with the authorities, and there’s no particular reason to think they’ll be grilling Taylor rather than just asking where the plane is. In any case, you can’t object to someone asking too many questions until they’ve asked some, so a preemptive Persuade roll seems rather misplaced.

Taylor apparently has some diving equipment left behind by whoever retrieved the bodies from the plane. What does he actually have? Investigators have “an excellent chance of drowning”, but without information on what is actually there (suits? compressor? how many?) it’s hard to judge what it is, or to give players a good idea of what’s there and the opportunity to decide themselves whether it’s a good idea to try it. “Some of the diving equipment” seems to translate only a line or two later into what’s probably a single suit and nothing else.

Moreover, why hasn’t anyone retrieved the suits? They're worth at least $150! That's a fortune! How on earth can it be “thought not worth lugging back” four months' rent after the bodies were recovered? I wasn’t impressed with this. The scenario stretches credibility to breaking point to give Taylor a (faulty) diving suit, and holds out the possibility of Investigators hiring it for the search, but then assumes so confidently that they won’t that it doesn’t supply the information necessary to run it. So what was the point?

General Thoughts

Niggles aside (I'd just ignore the whole Taylor-suit angle), I think this could be a perfectly good introduction to diving, as long as you work on the assumption that it'll probably just be a simple jaunt and the drunken-boating business isn't actually likely to happen. The tricky bits will be setting things up so Investigators have a reason to get involved; getting them to do the dirty work themselves, without raising high expectations that this scenario can't meet; and providing natural follow-up scenarios that exploit what they've gained from this one. So it's a bit of a niche scenario, not one that I can see getting a huge amount of use as-is.

However, I think the possibly more valuable aspect of this scenario is that it provides everything needed to introduce diving to your game, including a couple of relevant NPCs, a sample objective and a sample emergency. In that respect I think it does very well, and to be honest I get the impression that that's really what this was all about. To some extent the same is true of other scenarios in the collection, this is just the most pronounced example so far.