Tabletop RPG Review: Shadows of Yog-Sothoth

The first campaign for Call of Cthulhu and one of, if not the first tabletop RPG campaigns ever, Shadows of Yog-Sothoth is a product of its time.  The scenarios are only tentatively connected, with the Keeper (GM, DM, whatever) needing to do some major plot gymnastics to get the PCs from one to the next.  It features multiple themes, cults, and Mythos creatures, but with little reason.  There are some really cool ideas and a couple of the scenarios have a lot of potential, but none of it comes together.

The first scenario is The Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight and it was my stalling point on several attempts at reading the book.  If I were going to actually run this campaign, this scenario would probably be the one I’d put the most work into expanding.  Frankly, it feels like it should be the first half of a long campaign.  Begin by having the PCs be invited into the Silver Twilight (basically an American version of The Golden Dawn).  Send them off on several ‘monster of the week’ type scenarios while they rise in rank within the Silver Twilight.  Heck, you might even run a totally different campaign and weave it into this scenario.  Bring things to a head with the big revelations from the end of this scenario and that all sets the stage for what should be the second half of the campaign.  If this were going to take a year of weekly sessions to run, this would take you to about six months.

The second scenario, Look to the Future, is probably my favorite in the book.  It could actually work as a pretty good campaign opener if you wanted to really get into some of the concepts it introduces.  It would especially work if you wanted to really dig into Nyarlathotep in an ongoing game.  It’s very short and isn’t really a complete scenario, but it’s cool nonetheless.

The Coven of Cannich feels more like the set up for a scenario than an actual scenario.  It’s a bit sandboxy, but I was left scratching my head trying to figure out what I’d do with it, how I’d run it, and ultimately what the point of it is.  I guess the PCs are supposed to get some pieces of an item, but how they’d go about it and why they’d travel all the way to Scotland to do so…that’s beyond me.  And I’m not even going into my thing about ghosts in a Call of Cthulhu scenario.  

The fourth scenario is Devil’s Canyon, and while I like some of the ideas in this one I’m struck again by a big problem.  What’s the point?  What does it have to do with anything else?  Why would the PCs travel all this way and what do they get out of it?  

And then there’s The Worm that Walks.  If I were playing in this game, this scenario would straight-up piss me off.  Its whole purpose is to ‘teach the players a lesson’ that the game is deadly.  That’s it.  Why would the PCs get involved with this?  Because it’s there?  It’s literally designed to kill at least one PC to make a point.  Ugh.

The last two scenarios, The Watchers of Easter Island and The Rise of R’lyeh actually move the story along with the former playing into the latter.  Though even here, I could see skipping or at least re-writing a lot of The Watchers of Easter Island and not just because of the questionable depiction of Easter Islanders.  Things all come to a head on Cthulhu’s mind-blasting island.  Which reminds me, why was this called Shadows of Yog-Sothoth and not Shadows of Cthulhu?  Yog-Sothoth barely features in the danged thing.

There are two bonus scenarios in the 2004 version that I read.  People of the Monolith seems like it could make a cool introductory story for an ongoing campaign.  It brings a PC or a group of PCs into contact with the strange, though likely without doing them serious physical harm.  The Warren feels like the kind of thing you might run at a convention.  A little investigation, a little searching, a little action, and potential for some bloody violence. 

I don’t want to seem too down on it.  It is obviously an early example of a developing hobby and growing pains were inevitable.  There are enough seeds of cool ideas that I could see being developed into something really cool and sprawling.  But it would take a LOT of work on the part of the Keeper.  Beyond expanding the first scenario a dozen times over, I think you’d also need to write a lot more threads and plots to carry the PCs from that first scenario up through the climax.  And considering that as written you are likely to face off against serpent people, chthonians, ghosts, deep ones, and more, it might also need some liberal pruning.  I am contemplating using both Look to the Future and People of the Monolith as campaign openers.

I talked about it further on YouTube.

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