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Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Innsmouth Project

In terms of Lovecraftian investigative horror, salt-sodden Innsmouth is an outlier, a place where the Mythos walks wild, its true batrachian nature hidden behind a  veneer of pretense to human civilisation. So of all the places in the Call of Cthulhu canon, it is relatively little visited. There is the campaign Escape from Innsmouth and the anthology, Before the Fall, both published by Chaosium, Inc., but scenarios are far and few between in comparison to the many other locations visited in Lovecraft Country. Further, the fate of Innsmouth remains unexplored and unvisited, the proposed 1998 supplement, Children of the Deep, never having materialised. That is until the release of Save Innsmouth: A Student Documentary in 2016.

Save Innsmouth: A Student Documentary is a short, one-session, one-shot of survival horror scenario for use with Just Crunch Games’ The Cthulhu Hack. Based on The Black Hack, The Cthulhu Hack is a rules, light set of player facing mechanics that handle investigation, sanity loss, action, and combat with relative ease. Investigator creation is also easy, so a group could create their investigators and get playing in a very time. Similarly, the scenario is straightforward and simple enough that the Game Master could adapt it to the rules of his choice, whether a Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying game or not.

Save Innsmouth: A Student Documentary takes its cue from the dilapidated and crumbling nature of post-financial crash Detroit and the loss of its history with the loss of its architecture. In the early twenty-first century, Innsmouth has been abandoned for some ninety years, raided and cleaned out by the FBI as part of Prohibition. Now some developer wants to move and regenerate the town, meaning the loss of the remaining architecture which dates from the period of Prohibition and even older. Keen to document and explore this rare remanent of the twentieth century before it is lost, a group of students and ‘urban explorers’ from Miskatonic University in Arkham—the player characters—have made the trip north. Yet as the scenario opens, they find themselves at the bottom of a briny hole, battered and bruised, with only one way out...

Beginning in media res, Save Innsmouth: A Student Documentary is at its heart a linear affair, a set of underground tunnels, cellars, and caverns that ultimately do lead to an exit. The investigators do no more than follow this labyrinth—the Game Master can arrange these as he likes, but the tunnels will lead to this exit anyway—perhaps piecing together Innsmouth’s secret history from the clues found at several of the locations in the labyrinth, eventually either escaping via a flooded cavern, dying in the attempt, or being consumed by the tunnels’ other inhabitant. The Game Master is free to run this how he likes, but a time mechanism or countdown is provided to speed the scenario up.

The problem with Save Innsmouth: A Student Documentary is that although it has the means to break up the monotony of the escape attempt, it does not develop or handle them as well as it should. The scenario includes some eleven points that the investigators are supposed to know or have experienced prior to the start of the scenario. These can be given out as is, but it is suggested that they be played out as flashbacks. In fact, this should have been more than a suggestion—it should have been a recommendation, perhaps with advice on how to present them and more detail which would have both fleshed them and the scenario out. Together they would have helped to bring the current state of Innsmouth to light, as currently this feels overlooked—or at least, underdeveloped.

Another issue really left up to the players to decide is what their investigators are carrying. They are allowed the gear necessary to help them document or explore the soon to be bulldozed town of Innsmouth plus a luxury item. Some advice as to both would not have been unwelcome and would have made the scenario easier and quicker to set up. Certainly some equipment suggestions would have helped. That said, the character creation process is otherwise well done and includes a means to establish relationships between the characters in readiness for their ordeal.

Physically, Save Innsmouth: A Student Documentary is a simple, eight-page booklet, unillustrated and done on glossy paper behind a good, brochure-like cover. At the core of Save Innsmouth: A Student Documentary is a good scenario, but it misses opportunities to flesh the scenario out and to bring the dilapidated current state of Innsmouth to life as much as it does its past.