Save Innsmouth: A Student Documentary
(The Cthulhu Hack)
Author: Paul Baldowski
Publisher: Just Crunch Games
Page Count: 8
Available Formats: PDF and print
PDF (DTRPG) – $1.25
Print (Just Crunch Games) (only available in a bundle) – £18.00
“You’re all students at Arkham’s renowned Miskatonic University. Between terms, you’re taking the opportunity to go hiking. You’ve taken an interest in the newspaper and local TV reports of construction in the north-east, along the coast, that will see a piece of history, a town preserved since Prohibition times, bulldozed to make way for a luxury health spa resort. This will be the last chance to see the place intact before The Man clears away another chunk of America’s heritage in the name of progress.”
I own both the physical booklet and the PDF. The physical booklet is nicely laid out and printed on semi-gloss pages. The cover is full color and evocative of the modern theme of the investigation. The Layout of both the PDF and booklet is well done and easy to read. No complaints in this area.
MY THOUGHTS (Spoilers ahead):
I ran this investigation the other night for three players and I am not feeling it. This may be due to this being my first foray into The Cthulhu Hack or as an experienced GM, my style of running games influenced the way I thought I understood the story. I am not new to Lovecraftian horror so, I don’t think it is the first, but more likely the second factor.
Right from the beginning, the players wake after being thrown into a 20-foot shaft with no way out through the shaft itself. They’re forced to venture further underground in a very railroaded fashion. From the onset of the scenario, my players faced two challenges and being all relatively new RPGers they didn’t know how to tackle them. Even though we discussed possible things to take with them as part of the game setup; they lacked equipment that would have been helpful to them like flashlights (which I did say they had), cell phones, cameras, who knows what else. Second, they just weren’t sure how to proceed. I force feed them some info about Innsmouth that was provided in the booklet, but it felt very disjointed. None of the players thought to make any type of inquiries as to how they got there, what they might have seen on the trip to Innsmouth or anything remotely similar. This is where the player’s inexperience shined brightest.
I think it would have been better for the players in terms of story flow if the bus driver spoke to them on the ride to Innsmouth about some of the dilapidated sites and some of the rumors surrounding the town. You know, feed their curiosity. This I feel would have set the tone of “tread carefully, but explore yonder town”. We all know the investigators would then have gone and visited one of the locations upon arrival. After all, they’re there to see the sites before they are all bulldozed to make way for a new health spa resort. The next logical thing would be to have the investigators fall through the floor of an old building into the same pit/shaft they would otherwise be thrown into. This would also serve to give them more of a sense of impending dread and doom.
The scenario then proceeds into the cavern system under Innsmouth from this point. In essence, it is a bunch of wandering through the tunnels only to eventually find their way into some sort of grotto; each room or grotto serves a purpose in the overarching story. After traversing the tunnels and caves for what may feel like an extended period of time, the players will finally find themselves in a cave that is connected to the ocean and is about to flood with tidal waters. This is their way out, but only if they can make through the current without drowning or triggering a saltwater Shoggoth attack. One of my players proceeded to fail his saves and was drowned by the saltwater Shoggoth that frequents the flooded cave system during the high tides.
Paul gives some tips on how to layout the cave system, but it really doesn’t matter how you do it. Have them wander around for a few minutes (roll a d10, on a 1 or 2 then spend wasted time wandering), but either way, end up in the next room in the loose sequence of grottos. I think to smooth out the disjointed feeling of the tunnels/grottos, I would try to incorporate some carvings on the walls to symbolize some of the history of the cave system and hint at its use. I think that little tweak would enhance the player experience and make it feel a little less railroaded by giving players a reason and desire to move deeper into the caves. Let’s face it, they have to find a way out and there really is only one option through the flooded cave at the end, but keepers need to make it a plausible direction to move.
This scenario, as written, is far too much of a railroad for my tastes. As written it would make a great demo scenario for a convention or game store. In fact, if you ask Paul, that was the purpose of the scenario. As such, maybe I approached it from the wrong angle and should have embellished it more from the start. To be fair, I will run it again to see if I can find ways to work with it to smooth out the quirks and enhance the player’s experience. There is a good short scenario in there!
I still think this is worth picking up, but the GM needs to give it a few finishing touches to make it their own and give their players a better experience.