Adventure Review: Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Dead White World by Graham Walmsley and Pelgrane Press

I debated this week about what I should review for Halloween. Though I love zombies, I’ve expressed that love in earlier posts and wanted to focus on something different. And though adventuring in a Lovecraftian universe isn’t exactly new, the one supplement that I kept coming back to was Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Dead White World for Trail of Cthulhu by Graham Walmsley and Pelgrane Press. It manages to capture an apocalyptic event while doing two things simultaneously – keeping the players involved and offering a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an end that doesn’t seem forced.

Recently I ordered my copy of Trails of Cthulhu (ToC) through my favorite local game store and I’m waiting for it to arrive. But while I waited I’ve been pondering how to try the system once it arrives. What better way than to share an apocalyptic event among friends?

If you haven’t played Call of Cthulhu (CoC), ToC, or any other Cthulhu mythos-inspired game, the first thing you have to come to grips with is knowing that your characters are going to go insane. It’s impossible to stop the madness and the quicker you understand that, the better off you’ll be. And though I haven’t yet played anything using the GUMSHOE system, the emphasis seems to be more on investigating and dealing with the horror indirectly rather than facing the creatures head-on. That said, your characters do get to see their world become home to creatures from other worlds, so they’re likely going to snap like a string bean at some point.

The Dead White World offers the first three scenarios of the Cthulhu Apocalypse campaign from Pelgrane Press. It starts with a train crash. Then you discover that everybody in the world has died. And your day only only gets worse from there… The good thing is that as the world ends, you won’t need to order flowers for your funeral. The world is covered with them… This isn’t the world ending with a bang, but a whimper, and figuring out what you can do after the fact provides a very different spin on things than your usual Lovecraftian adventure.

What blew my mind, beyond the fact that the adventures start with the world ending, was how seamless the pieces fit together. As GM, you’re given everything you need to get started (pre-made PCs and NPCs), plus guidelines for adding other characters if the need arises. You really don’t need a combat map because there’s very little combat involved except in a narrative sense. It’s more about putting the pieces together for those few who survived. The little details really sell it as well – from the notes on mannerisms, speech, and appearance of the major NPCs (which can really help keep a GM in character) – to the variety of ways the mechanics can be used to ferret out the clues to what happened and where the party should go next.

I really don’t want to spoil the surprises within this unassuming looking book. But as a Lovecraftian fan looking forward to diving into GMing a ToC game soon, this will be my weapon of choice. I’m not sure how long it will take to get through the three scenarios, but I suspect a session or two at least.

Design-wise, the page layout looks largely like a turn-of-the-century newspaper might look, with discolored paper, some simple fonts, a few columns, and a few flourishes. The artwork is understated from the cover to the interior work by artist Alessandro Alaia. And the writing evokes a quiet disease while illuminating the clues from different points of view all the way through. The whole book uses the low-key approach to great effect.

If you’re looking for something creepy with some fun roleplaying challenges, I’d strongly encourage you to check out Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Dead White World today at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG or at the Pelgrane Press store.

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