Tabletop RPG Review: Spawn of Azathoth

Spawn of Azathoth cover

I read an older edition, because it’s what I own, and because I’m not dropping collector prices for a newer edition.  So, perhaps some things I might complain about have been fixed. Perhaps.

Like many older pre-published Chaosium campaigns for Call of Cthulhu, this one lacks focus.  There’s really no reason to deal with Mi-Go, Tcho-Tcho, ancient spiders, Hastur worshipers, and Ghouls, not to mention a ghost and some Sasquatch…Sasquatch?! in one, fairly short campaign.  I’m not a fan of putting traditional monsters (vampires, werewolves…Sasquatch…into Call of Cthulhu either, but that’s a discussion for another day).  It’s a bit of what YouTube reviewer Kurt Wiegel refers to as a ‘mythos hoedown.’ It wouldn’t take a ton of work to focus things a bit more. The theme of cannibalism runs through several parts, so you could change the Sasquatch to a band of strange people who practice a kind of ritual cannibalism, but are otherwise generally harmless.  If you wanted to crank up the weird, make them some sort of proto-human offshoot that have been surviving in the region for a long time. I definitely wouldn’t bring ghouls into this, even with their connection to the Dreamlands, which might take the chapter “The Eternal Quest” out of the picture.  Maybe not, though, as I think parts of it could work into an modified version of “Ulthar and Beyond,” or even work in much the way presented, with someone else subbing for the Ghouls. The connection to Hastur could be dropped and nobody would be the wiser.  It muddies the water to no real end.  I guess, if you were planning to run a follow-up game dealing with a Hastur cult or something…OK.  Otherwise, just drop it.

The other problem with the campaign is that it is set up somewhat for inexperienced characters, but then throws a lot of very difficult problems at them, including dealing with the Dreamlands (a whole can of worms by itself), needing multiple and sometimes unusual language skills, as well as multiple, varied academic skills, in addition to the usual array of investigation and survival skills you need to get by.   Add to that, extremely deadly encounters that would be a challenge for a bunch of weapon-toting toughs.  There are half a dozen places where a TPK (total party kill) seems not only possible, but likely.  And even getting past TPKs, there are several places where the assumption of the author seems to be that at least one character will die almost arbitrarily.  It’s not that character death bothers me.  It’s Call of Cthulhu.  That happens.  This one just seems oddly deadly for little reason, and often in places where introducing a new, replacement character would be impossible.

Those concerns aside, I think that a confident and competent Keeper could adjust some things, re-write some things, and run a pretty good game with this.  There are some very cool ideas, and I really like the semi-sandbox nature of the story. Other than the first and last chapter, you may or may not do the other chapters, and could do them in different order.  And it’s not that the Dreamlands part doesn’t fit. It’s just a bit of a leap, if there’s not more build-up. It might be best if between the first chapter and what comes later, a more detailed introduction to the concept happen. Maybe some preliminary experiment in dreaming?  I might try to weave the Dreamlands more tightly into the other chapters, too.  Like with cannibalism, multiple dimensions seems to be a thread that may not run through this campaign, but it’s there, and maybe it should.

I would be interested in seeing Chaosium do for this campaign what they’ve recently done for Horror on the Orient Express and Masks of Nyarlathotep.  I think it could make for an interesting, greatly expanded campaign. Perhaps a few more subplots and interesting locations. Maybe some more fleshed out ideas.  I’d love to see practical advice for how to run sessions. Unfortunately, I don’t think this has ever been one of the more popular classic campaigns, so perhaps I won’t hold my breath.  It also might make a good one to fold into another campaign, breaking up the various adventures with another story, and who knows, maybe weaving the two together.  Would that work with Masks, or maybe Shadows of Yog-Sothoth?  I don’t know, but it might be interesting to look at, especially with the world-hopping nature of those campaigns.

I am curious to see what was done for the later edition; if it was simply a re-print, or if there were substantial alterations.


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