The Herald Calls – A Review of Full Fathom Five [Miskatonic Repository]

Full Fathom Five

Author: Paul Fricker
Publisher: Chaosium [Miskatonic Repository]
Page Count: 60
Available Formats: PDF
PDF (DTRPG) – $6.99

Full Fathom Five is Paul Fricker’s newest Call of Cthulhu scenario and is published in partnership with Chaosium through the Miskatonic Repository. The scenario is set in the year of our Lord, 1847. Somewhere in the South Pacific, the “Barclay” and her crew have been traveling and whaling for many months. Traversing the same patch of blue ocean hunting for whales, or perhaps it’s something else they seek. The ship’s captain, Abraham Chappell, and other senior crew members have ulterior motives and seek something specific in the South Pacific’s deep waters. A conspiracy is afoot!

In Full Fathom Five, Fricker takes Keepers and players to a non-traditional setting-the South Pacific. This is not your typical Call of Chtulhu scenario. I would recommend Keepers have some prior experience. However, less experienced Keepers up for a challenge should not shy away from this unique scenario. The scenario uses pre-generated investigators and is designed for four to six players. Advice is provided on how to adapt it for groups larger or smaller than the recommended size. The story should unfold in a single session of approximately 3-5 hours.

Full Fathom Five has been written and designed with both theme and narrative constraints at its core. As such, there are several elements prospective Keepers should be aware of. First, the scenario is not a sandbox and is to be played out in scenes. Scenes allow Keepers to keep the story tightly focused only on the important parts. This has the added benefit of preventing players from getting lost (or bored) in the minutiae. Second, investigators will die! Integral to the story, three investigators will be murdered; there is no way around this. This design element does take away some player agency, but it does not remove the player from the game. Instead, they will assume playing another member of the crew almost immediately. Third, as a result of the murders, paranoia will set in, and player-versus-player action will likely occur as suspicions increase. Lastly, the crew of the Barclay is an all-male crew. Some players may find not having an option for choosing their investigator’s gender a problem. This design element is historical and keeping with Fricker’s inspiration, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. In Melville’s American classic, the fictional ship, the “Pequod,” was crewed by all men. A Keeper could allow players to change (or hide) the gender of their investigator, but given the tight confines of life aboard a ship, it could introduce narrative elements best left out. As a historical note, Fricker comments that there are examples of numerous sea captains being accompanied by their wives during long whaling voyages. Taking further inspiration from Moby Dick, the NPC named Aurangi is intended to be an analog of Melville’s Queequeg. Both men are “islanders,” and Fricker makes every effort to portray Aurangi similarly to Queequeg—sympathetic and charming.

The story opens in media res with three boats being lowered into the water, each pursuing a different whale. In media res openings are neither new nor common. Here, it is used to good effect. It serves two purposes—immediate immersion into Full Fathom Five’s nautical theme, and it lays the groundwork for upcoming plot points. The story then progresses through a series of variable length scenes. The unfolding scenes onboard the Barclay are meant to feed into their hopefully rising paranoia. The scenario culminates in a chaotic scene that may be perceived by each player differently, depending on the member of the crew they’re playing. With several possible “perceived” visions taking place, new arrivals from the deep have joined the crew of the Barclay. This final scene comes to its frantic conclusion with the “Herald” returning to R’lyeh and one last possible shared vision that’s sure to melt a few minds.

Full Fathom Five presents an unusual scenario whereby investigators have some flexibility in interacting with the developing narrative, despite being out at sea. The three investigators having to die as part of the plot’s development may be a hard pill to swallow for some. I don’t necessarily see it as an issue. I would recommend Keepers to be upfront with their players that three investigators will die as part of the plot. Getting their buy-in at the start will make this plot device easier to work with and less jarring when it happens. The scene structure helps with the scenario’s pacing and gives it a feeling more like reading a novel.

The layout and art direction are fantastic—very professionally done by the skilled Matthew Sanderson. Throughout, callout boxes are used to good effect and provide additional details, Keeper’s notes, or other useful information. The layout is very clean and embellished appropriately with excellent black and white artwork, save for the “Herald,” a full-color image, which also adorns the cover. All of the artwork is tasteful and promotes the particular time period of the scenario. The handouts as well are nicely done and useful; in particular, I like the cutaway and deck plans of the Barclay. These handouts help bring the ship alive for those with little knowledge of sailing ships. All twenty-three members of the crew have their own character sheets. This will keep investigators who fall victim to murder plot devices in the game with little to no downtime.

Setting aside my concern for the loss of player agency by way of the murders, Full Fathom Five brings to bear a different kind of scenario that is both unique and fills an underserved area within the Call of Cthulhu community. Full Fathom Five won’t appeal to everyone, but there is a solid, paranoia-inducing, sanity loss inflicting scenario here that is worth your time. This one-shot would be perfect for conventions due to its scene structure, timely pacing, and a relatively short playtime. The flexibility it offers in terms of the player count also makes it an excellent pickup game for those times when you’re short players or have a larger than normal group.

If you’re looking for a different type of scenario to pitch to your players, Full Fathom Five should be on the top of your list. The unique setting, strange murder plot mechanism, and fast-paced scene structure make it all worth it!

~ Modoc

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