Dingo’s Deep Cuts: Trail of Yig [Tales of the Miskatonic Valley]

Tales of the Miskatonic Valley

Author: …Geoff Gillan, Keith Herber, Kevin A. Ross, et al
Publisher: Chaosium
Page Count: 128
Available Formats: PDF & Print
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Trail of Yig
Scenario by Eric and Keith Herber

Tales of the Miskatonic Valley—not to be confused with New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley—is a Call of Cthulhu scenario book from 1991. It’s one of those books that is rarely mentioned, and until randomly selecting “Trail of Yig” for this review, I’d forgotten I even had it in my collection. Similarly, I’d not even heard of this scenario before this review. Hopefully, if any readers find themselves in the same boat, this deep-dive will help you decide if “Trail of Yig” is one of those hidden gems worth tracking down or one best left to the annals of time. Needless to say, spoilers will follow.

The scenario starts in a way I haven’t seen before. Normally, the “Keeper Information” section provides the background to the story, whereas in this one, it is nothing more than a summary of the scenario. The only place the story background is laid out is in the player handouts, which, again, is quite unusual.

The scenario opens with the Investigators visiting a medium. This hook has no preface other than saying “perhaps” one or more of them are journalists, psychics, or private investigators hoping to expose her. The inciting incident hinges on one of the Investigators handing the medium a specific ring, so the Keeper will need to tell one of them they have it and also that they must hand it to her. I’ve never been a fan of scripted scenes where the players are told what they have to do. The scenario suggests that an NPC may also hand the ring over; however, the Investigators are expected to possess it throughout the game, which means the Keeper would need to contrive some way of facilitating this.

The séance fee is $150, which is roughly $2000 in today’s money. I’ve never seen a medium myself, but this seems excessive. It may not be, but the Keeper should at least be aware of how the conversion works out.

When the medium enters the room, she speaks in a thick Eastern European accent. The scenario calls for a Linguist roll to determine that her accent is fake and that she is actually from Pennsylvania, but as Linguist is no longer a skill, the Keeper will need to decide what to substitute it for. If any Investigator has a Language skill for an Eastern European country, that should suffice. An EDU roll may also work to arrive at the same conclusion, with the Keeper setting the difficulty level depending on how good they believe the medium’s acting to be. Determining that a Pennsylvanian accent is hidden underneath the fake one would be a much harder feat, however, so would likely require an Extreme success on whichever skill is chosen. It should be noted that none of this has any bearing on the story anyway, so the other option is to leave the rolls out entirely and simply describe that her accent sounds put-on.

This medium is the real deal, and after a few minutes of silence, she is channeling the spirit of a nine-year-old German girl. The scenario again calls for a Linguist (or German) roll to determine the girl is from the Munich area, and once again, this has no relevance to the plot, and is superfluous.

Following the scripted sequence I mentioned above, the medium excuses herself and is soon found hanging in her room. Despite hanging for long enough to first be discovered by her maid and then the Investigators, as well as the description “Her face is blackened and her tongue extended horribly,” the medium is still able to cough out a few dying words when pulled down, which feels a little hackneyed for my tastes.

This scene is also where the bulk of the clues/handouts are collected. The first is in the fireplace as the Investigators enter the medium’s room, so if they don’t think to snatch it out immediately, it will burn up. This clue is the least important, so it’s not too much of an issue if it does. The next is a diary, which is easy enough to find and read, but with the police soon arriving, if the Investigators haven’t done so before they get there, they may lose the chance. A Credit Rating roll is needed to persuade the police to allow the reading of the diary after the fact. The final clue—a letter—is probably the hardest to acquire. It first requires a Spot Hidden roll to even see, followed by either a Hard DEX or Sleight of Hand roll to snatch up without being spotted by a policeman. On the off chance that the diary was not read, the Keeper should probably offer the letter up without any rolls so as not to stall the game.

The first lead comes in the form of Miskatonic University’s Henry Armitage. The Investigators request access to the infamous Necronomicon, though Armitage won’t permit it without a successful Persuade roll accompanied by letters of reference from reputable academics. If the Investigators are journalists, psychics, or private investigators, as the scenario suggests, the latter may be impossible to come by. The scenario says that studying the book takes 2D6 months (an average of seven), though the 7e rulebook says a flat 66 weeks, which is about 15 months. The reader also needs to make a successful Other Language (Latin) roll to be given the associated handout. If a successful Credit Rating or Persuade roll can be made, Armitage himself will help translate, which shortens the time to 2D6 weeks and provides a 75% chance of acquiring the handout. The scenario also suggests that if the Keeper wishes to bypass the study times, they could simply provide the handout in the form of a dream to the holder of the ring. Besides providing the background to the whole scenario, the handout in question also shows the melody of a song that is said to be key to defeating the monster at the climax, so the dream may be the better option.

The next lead is the private museum of the late Elihu Wilcox. For the sake of completeness, I tried to figure out if there was meant to be some connection to Henry Wilcox from The Call of Cthulhu, but I couldn’t find any. The museum does have an “octopoid statuette carved from a slimy green stone” in its collection, but it was Inspector Legrasse who had the statuette, whereas Henry’s creation was a clay bas-relief. The locations mentioned are also different, so it appears there is no connection other than the shared family name.

The museum mostly contains random historical artifacts which, though eclectic, are nothing particularly unusual. For the most part, the Keeper here would simply be listing off the items. There are 34 exhibits in total, split between 4 rooms, and only two of them provide any interaction. One or two others ask for rolls to provide some further insight into the said item, but that’s it.

The strangest part of the whole museum is a geode-like meteorite that has broken open with a trail on the floor leading down into the basement. Proceeding to the basement, Investigators are ambushed by a shapeless thing that in one paragraph is described as “gaseous” yet in another as a “goo,” which is a little confusing. The entity has no stats and can only be avoided by a Dodge roll, but once it engulfs its victim, they lose 10 CON and APP per round. The only way it will release its victim is if more than two or three flashlights worth of light is shone on it. The thing is impervious to melee and firearms, though fire and explosives will harm it. Without any stats, however, it implies a binary outcome to any combat. The whole encounter has no connection to the story at all, so Keepers will need to make sure it doesn’t inadvertently become the focus of the players’ attention, especially with the attached newspaper clipping sourcing the meteorite miles away in Kansas.

The next several leads take the Investigators to Dunwich. The first of which is a wheelchair-bound academic with an unusually large library. Luckily for them, she has extensive knowledge of this library and can pull out the one book with the one paragraph pertinent to the investigation.

Another clue that can be found here is a drawing of a tablet depicting the solar system. A Science (Astronomy) roll and “several weeks” can determine that the configuration shown is soon to occur and that the last time it did was “centuries ago.” As a hobbyist astronomer myself, I can say that this section needs to be tweaked. First of all, it wouldn’t take several weeks to work out. Even back in the ’20s, you could look at the night sky, figure out where the planets are presently, and infer that the configuration is almost due, which might take a day or two depending on the weather. On the flip side, if the scenario’s intent is that the Investigators can work out that it’s due in the next few days, then a tablet carving would not be accurate enough to make those sorts of calculations from, regardless of skill or time.

My other issue with this is that planetary configurations don’t repeat—at least not on human timescales. Even assuming circular orbits and an extremely generous 5% wiggle-room, the same configuration of the eight planets would come around roughly every 25 million years. If you include Pluto (which this scenario does), that increases to 507 million years. As such, I would leave the “last time it occurred was centuries ago” line out completely. Neither of these points is the fault of the writers, as astronomy is not a common interest, but I just wanted to bring it to the attention of any prospective Keepers of this scenario for the sake of verisimilitude.

Before getting to the next lead, the scenario jumps over to a few other possible encounters. The first is a group of brothers who run a whiskey still nearby. The Investigators can run into them if they ignore an NPC’s advice, and the brothers will not tolerate intruders. One thing that stood out to me here is that they make $500 a week from selling their whiskey. That’s $6500 in today’s money. Even divided by the three of them, that’s one hell of an income. The next possible encounter is a Treasury agent posing as a bible salesman who is looking to take down the brothers’ operation. Not much information is given here, other than to say he may ally the investigators if they are targeted by the brothers. The final encounter is a man described as “mentally and emotionally a little slow.” He is only really provided as an exposition device because he knows all the goings-on around the area, including the brothers’ whiskey operation. Interestingly, the scenario says he will only talk after one or two successful Psychology rolls, which is not a use of that skill I have ever come across before.

Another section here describes dreams that the investigators will start having as they get closer to the snake-shaped mound the investigation has been leading towards. All four are as you would expect, though the first is more of a hypnogogic hallucination than a dream, where the dreamer finds one of the other Investigators being entwined by a constrictor snake. An Idea roll can break the illusion, but otherwise, the dreamer believes it to be real, and any attack against the snake is inflicted upon the apparent victim. I like the idea, though I would probably make the Idea roll without the player’s knowledge as not to affect their decisions should it fail.

The scenario then jumps back to the final investigation lead, an arthritic elderly lady named Granny Barnes, seemingly living by herself. She’s a bit stand-offish, but the scenario gives several examples of how the Investigators can ingratiate her. Once they have, she gives directions to the mound and warns against the path leading to the brothers’ still. She can also teach them the song if necessary. Strangely, learning the song from the Necronomicon requires a Sing/EDU roll, learning it from a dream requires no rolls at all, and learning it from Granny requires a Sing/INT (Hard) roll.

One last section before jumping into the finale sees the Investigators finding a Spawn of Yig locked up in the backroom of Granny’s cabin, having been born 40 years prior and kept hidden away ever since. He is harmless and shy—which is a welcome twist on the typical Call of Cthulhu monster—to the point that his stat block doesn’t even provide any fighting skills. If returning to the cabin at a later time, the Investigators will find Granny dead, and it is up to them what they do with her “son.” This kind of moral quandary is always fun to have in a game.

Arriving at the mound for the scenario’s finale, one of the Investigators may become the victim of an instant death. If one of them is carrying the ring, they will start to notice snakes nearby, then warnings, and then isolated attacks. If they don’t realize it’s the ring causing these encounters and dispose of it, the unlucky holder will become engulfed in snakes once they start digging in the mound and be killed immediately. Insta-death is never fun in a game, and even though it is so close to the end, I would personally offer a Spot Hidden roll to notice the snakes appearing and perhaps a Dodge roll to jump away before being attacked.

There is a line in this final section that I found a little unusual. The Investigators can find a bone protruding from the mound, and the scenario says, “The skeleton seems to be Indian, judging by the age, size, and lack of dental work.” First of all, I don’t believe anyone can determine a skeleton’s ethnicity without specialist training. I especially don’t see how the size and lack of dental work would provide any useful information. The skeleton’s age might provide a clue, except for the fact that it is found with a 16th-century Spanish crucifix, so why would they not assume it’s the skeleton of a Spaniard? If I were running this, I would probably ask for either an Archaeology or Extreme Science (Biology) roll to determine ethnicity; otherwise, I would leave it at “human skeleton.”

As the Investigators dig into the mound, they eventually uncover the top of a translucent egg…which is also glowing for some reason. It is due to hatch soon, though it will hatch prematurely if the Investigators prod at it. This climax is where my biggest gripe with the scenario is. Throughout the entire thing, the Investigators are being told that the song is the key to saving the day. In the conclusion, it even says, “To destroy the egg where it rests, use the wordless chant.” Singing the song is treated like a spell, so it comes with conditions, a magic-point cost, and SAN loss, as well as needing a successful Art/Craft (Sing) roll, which has a base value of 5%. The problem is, the conclusion also has a second bullet-point that simply says, “A large quantity of dynamite atop the exposed egg will kill it immediately,” which completely undermines the value of the song. The Yig-Spawn that bursts from the egg has no armor or special immunities, meaning it can simply be dealt with via firearms, etc. In fact, it would only take an average of three shotgun/rifle shots or two sticks of dynamite to take it down. Even if the Investigators do opt to use the song, they only get one attempt, as the scenario says the egg hatches during the second, meaning they’ll likely have to fight the creature through normal means anyway. It all feels like much ado about nothing.

Despite some eye-rolling over the opening scenes and some gripes with the ending, “Trail of Yig” is one of the better pre-7e scenarios I’ve read. All of its flaws are pretty easily remedied. Overall, I think it’s a really solid scenario and would definitely recommend it to new or old Keepers alike.

~ Dingo

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