Tabletop RPG Review: The Children of Fear

I believe this is the first big campaign for the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu.  There were two previous Pulp Cthulhu campaigns, and this has the option for making it Pulp, but I think this is the first written to be for the core game.  The Children of Fear is an odd mix of things that I find both fascinating and ultimately, perhaps, not for me.  It is likely to take you less time to run than a Masks of Nyarlathotep or Horror on the Orient Express, though the characters will experience much greater scales of time.  Concessions are made for putting a more Mythos twist on things, yet the story as presented is really more steeped in Eastern mythology and spirituality.  Advice is given for making it more pulpy, but as written, it feels like a more grounded take on the adventure fiction of the early 20th Century.  It’s a fascinating read, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever run this campaign.

Author Dr. Lynne Hardy has taken pains to present China, Tibet, India, and other territories and countries of the region respectfully, without falling prey to exoticism.  There is a lot of history and culture to absorb, and I feel like reading this book just served as a reminder of how much more I need to read about the region and its history.  This could prove a difficult thing for Western audiences, as I don’t think we tend to get a lot in school, and it can be tough to grasp sometimes.  Like in the United States, where there were still large chunks of the country that might as well have still been in the mid 1800s, there are chunks of this book dealing with what still seem like lawless frontiers, while also visiting thriving cosmopolitan centers.

Though not a sandbox style campaign, it does give you options on how to proceed.  Depending on the choices made, some things may be harder or easier, some people may be avoided, missed, or found in a different state.  In that sense, I could see the campaign playing out very differently depending on the group of players and the choices they make. There are also several optional encounters and locations if the Keeper feels the need to expand things. It gives you the option for “redlining” travel, which is essentially hand-waving it, like you would see with the red line crossing the map in an Indiana Jones film.

If nothing else, I feel like this book will serve me well as a resource if I do want to run any games set in the region and era.  There’s a ton of information on locations, politics, and even on travel and its many options and challenges.  It’s travel that creates an interesting potential issue with the campaign.  If you’re using established characters and maybe have a plan to move them onto another campaign after, it’s important to know that it might take a couple of in-game years to finish this campaign, even though I suspect it wouldn’t take more than four to six months of real time.  Travel times between locations are typically counted in weeks, if not months.

Let me get to a point here.  I think this is a good campaign.  I just don’t think it’s a good Call of Cthulhu campaign.  I can imagine having an absolute blast taking the Pulp Cthulhu rules and running a group of adventurers through this.  Crank up the pulpy side of things, giving characters mystical powers and what not.  But I wouldn’t sell it as a Cosmic Horror game.  I wouldn’t bring in any connection to Lovecraft or the Mythos.  While there are creatures that are similar to Ghouls, there is little else that resembles anything you might expect in a Call of Cthulhu game.  And while the authors have given examples of how to mix them in, I don’t think they work at all.  It’s the same problem I have with scenarios that mix in vampires, werewolves, or ghosts.  For me, Call of Cthulhu should be about Cosmic Horror, which is essentially atheistic and extremely non-humanocentric.  Creatures and beings of a “supernatural” and spiritual nature, involving curses and personal gods?  Karma and a cosmic meaning to life?  Absolutely not.  Again, I say this seems like it would be a fun campaign to play.  It just isn’t what I want from Call of Cthulhu.  That’s a personal taste thing, though.  And I think if you present the campaign as a “pulp adventure,” as opposed to Pulp Cthulhu, even if you use those rules, you won’t be misleading your players.

My other concern with this campaign is the big twist.  I’m not going into what that twist is, but I could see it upsetting players, especially if they feel like the campaign is coming to an end, only to have the twist happen and realize there’s still a lot of game left.  I think it’s a clever twist, but I wonder at how it actually plays and how people feel about it.  I don’t think I’d like it.

Again, this is a fascinating read and will be a great resource for future games.  It spawned several ideas for scenarios while reading it and made me want to read deeper into some subjects.  If you’re looking to run something a bit different, maybe a little unexpected for your usual Call of Cthulhu players, something more akin to Lost Horizon than At the Mountains of Madness, check this one out.  While I don’t see myself running it anytime soon, I do expect I’ll be returning to the book more than once.

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