Tabletop RPG Review: Secrets

Call of Cthulhu Secrets cover

Secrets features four scenarios ostensibly meant for Cthulhu Now, a series of supplements set in the then contemporary 1990s. What makes them ’90s you ask? Well, other than organ donation playing a key role in the final one, nothing at all. That’s my general problem with this book, and with most of the Cthulhu Now stuff I’ve seen. Here are three scenarios that feel like they’d fit much better in the 1920s, maybe even the 1890s.  Other than the organ donation aspect, which could easily be changed to something else or feel at home in a slightly weirder Cthulhu by Gaslight ( a mad doctor is doing ‘’experimental organ transplantation’), the story also doesn’t feel like it takes place in the 1990s.

Closed Casket reminds me of the better Paper Chase which now appears in the Call of Cthulhu Starter Kit.  Again, nothing about the 1990s is used or exploited to set up the young adult character.  There’s no reference to contemporary life or social movements.

A Love in Need has some very interesting ideas, and would be especially interesting if you want to dive into some moral grey areas and to pull on some heartstrings.  The fact that one of the main characters is a ‘reformed’ traveling huckster not only doesn’t capture that ‘90s vibe, it calls back specifically to the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The internet hadn’t become ubiquitous enough for that style of crystal-clutching mummery to come roaring back, yet.

The Unsealed Room, though parts of it feel a bit too dungeon-crawl, is probably the best and has some real potential. I hate traditional monsters (vampires, werewolves, mummies, etc.) in my Call of Cthulhu games, so this take on vampires is fun. I’ve often thought if I ever run Horror on the Orient Express, I’d have to rewrite things to get rid of the vampire that appears within. Maybe something like this?  I’ve always figured I’d just change the character to a powerful priest of Nyarlathotep or something, maybe something else would work.

The final scenario is Cult of One and I like the basic premise, I just don’t know how it would play out. It might be good to weave into another story. It’s the only one that feels even remotely “modern” and might mix into a Delta Green game with a bit of work.  Yet again, it doesn’t have anything about it that says “1990s.”  I could see setting it in the 1970s, actually.  Try to capture some of the vibe of David Cronenberg’s Rabid.

It’s fine. It’s just not very 1990s. Like…at all.  On a positive note, unlike too many published scenarios, none of these feel the need to throw a constant stream of different monsters at the investigators.  Even so, I might drop the byakhee and the haunting horror from the scenarios they appear in, as they muddy the water narratively.  If your group is REALLY into monster hunting (probably play a different game, but…) then, OK.  Otherwise, they’re really not needed.  The human element and more subtle influences from beyond are likely enough.

 

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