Cthulhu Dreadfuls Presents #0 –
The Wystdovja Vale Gazetteer
Author: The Brinoceros
Publisher: Chaosium [Miskatonic Repository]
Page Count: 40
Available Formats: PDF
PDF (DTRPG) – Pay What You Want
Cthulhu Dreadfuls Presents is a recently released digital zines series that expands Call of Cthulhu’s Gaslight Era. It’s boldly inspired by classic Hammer horror movies and literary works such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and Lovecraft’s Mythos. It takes Keepers and players to new lands infused with Gothic horror and period sensibilities. This review will explore only Issue 0, “The Wystdovja Vale Gazetteer.” Other issues will be reviewed at a later date.
As a fan of games set in the Gaslight Era, the Cthulhu Dreadfuls Presents series hadn’t been on my radar until the creative team sent us digital copies of the first three issues to review. The number of available Call of Cthulhu sourcebooks and scenarios for the Gaslight Era is small compared to other periods. Most of what is currently available is by third-party publishers, with only a handful being published by Chaosium directly. Therefore, anything new to the already limited options available is a good thing.
Cthulhu Dreadfuls Presents
Although this review is not about the series at large, I feel it’s important to identify what it is and what readers can expect. Readers can expect each issue of Cthulhu Dreadfuls Presents to focus on the fictitious pseudo-European river valley located along the northwestern reaches of the Adriatic Sea that takes centerstage—Wystdovja Vale. Unlike other Gaslight Era supplements, Cthulhu Dreadfuls Presents is not focused on Victorian England but rather Wystdovja Vale, which is located within the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s borders. Starting with Issue 1, the focus shifts to scenarios inspired by specific works of fiction and film, all the while staying firmly rooted in the Wystdovja Vale.
Nestled along the Adriatic Sea’s northwestern coast, Wystovja Vale is a broad river valley bordered to the north and south by rugged mountains. As a river delta region, most of the valley is mired in marshlands, but several communities have taken root despite this. The City of Skeltzenberg is the largest metropolitan area and is the seat of government, society, commerce, and higher education. To the south, Skeltzenberg is the old decaying township of Middenport, teeming with the working-class and ridden by poverty and crime. Middenport sits in stark contrast to the third notable community, that of Karloczig, which lies to the northeast in the Varkolat Mountains. Between and connecting these larger notable settlements are antediluvian groves, ruined monasteries, mysterious Romani camps, isolated country inns, dark forests, lonely crossroads, dangerous mining operations, degenerate railroad junctions, treacherous mountain passes, and an array of noble estates, each hiding more than a hundred years of scheming mystery.
Each location description in the Gazetteer reads like a travel brochure with enough murky rumors to whet investigator’s appetites while avoiding any critical spoilers that may come in future issues. The gazetteer is for the investigators to use during the game at the table. Entries are in alphabetical order, with several call-out boxes containing additional information. For example, a historical timeline of the Vale, a list of noble estates, peerage ranks, and more.
Issue #0 comes loaded with a number of a good to know topics pertinent to the Vale that investigators should know or be aware of. The most important of which is the chart of travel times for both coaches and local trains. Both of which are integral to regional travel. Additional information includes an overview of the rule of law, society, and other useful information about travel.
However, two inconsistencies stand out. First, the Wystovja Vale is supposed to be in the northwestern reaches of the Adriatic Sea, but it’s also supposed to be south of the real-life city of Trieste. If that is the case, that would put Wystovja Vale in the northeastern region, not the northwestern region of the Adriatic Sea. For those that like geography, that would also put it somewhere in what is likely modern-day Croatia, or possibly Slovenia. I’m by no means a linguist, but the second inconsistency is the place names used in the Vale are a little inconsistent. While most of them have obvious Germanic or Slavic origins, locations like Middenport are more English in origin. Neither of these inconsistencies truly detract from the usefulness of the gazetteer.
The Look and Feel
Cthulhu Dreadfuls Presents, Issue #0 is a fully realized digital zine. The PDF is formatted at 5.5″ x 8.50″ and can easily be home printed into a proper booklet. From cover to cover, it is loaded with beautiful artwork and maps. The overwhelming majority of the artwork is black and white, but each piece carries the theme and tone of the Gaslight Era quite well. There are several maps in a style that I happen to really like, but your tastes may differ. The copy is laid out nicely, which makes reading this issue enjoyable. Of note, the gazetteer section is also cross-referenced to other sections using bold text.
With the use of cross-referencing, it would have been nice if the cross-referenced entries had been hyperlinked to one another. That would most definitely increase the ease of use for the digital version.
What It’s Not
Issue #0 is strictly a gazetteer with some additional useful information added that enhances its usefulness. It is not an all-inclusive setting book for the Wystovja Vale. As nice as that would have been, I don’t think an all-inclusive setting book was the end goal. Previous comments from the publisher indicate that an update to Issue #0 might contain additional information, like a list of investigator names, that will enhance it but still not make it a complete setting book.
Cthulhu Dreadfuls Presents #0 – “The Wystdovja Vale Gazetteer” is a fantastic alternative to run-of-the-mill Victorian England set pieces typically used in Gaslight Era games. It offers Keepers somewhere different that has not previously been an option, and that the series’ inspirations fit the location so well. As I have noted above, Issue #0 is not without its minor issues, but these do not negatively impact its usability.
I’m looking forward to seeing if the creative team adds to Issue #0 in the future. With the changes Chaosium implemented some time ago regarding what qualifies for Print on Demand, I remain hopeful that we’ll see this one as POD soon.
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