The Nightmare Flight
Author: Romans Popovs
Publisher: Chaosium [Miskatonic Repository]
Page Count: 26
Available Formats: PDF
PDF (DTRPG) – $3.99
Airships designed for luxury reached their zenith as means of intercontinental commercial travel in the 1920s and 30s, declining rapidly after the Hindenburg disaster on May 6, 1937. Helium or hydrogen-filled bladders kept the ship aloft while engines propelled the ship through the skies.
The Nightmare Flight follows a group of investigators as they board the Nibelung for a transatlantic flight from Lakehurst, New Jersey, to Friedrichshafen, Germany, in late October 1928. The Nibelung is embarking on its maiden voyage under the watchful eye of Captain Herbert Meier, the ship’s Captain and the company’s founder. Onboard this sold-out, highly publicized voyage is a strange crate bound for Germany. The passengers, once aboard, assemble in the posh dining room and are welcomed by Captain Meier. The Nibelung lifts off, offering diners amazing views.
Note: Romans Popovs provided Rolling Boxcars with a review copy for this article. If you have an item you’d like Rolling Boxcars to review, please visit our Product Review Request page.
Written for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, The Nightmare Flight is designed for 3-5 investigators possessing a wide range of skills. While the scenario focuses heavily on investigation and mystery, there are opportunities for more direct approaches.
The first day of the flight culminates with many guests congregating in the smoking lounge after the evening meal—the only place on board where one can safely light up. While enjoying a cocktail (prohibition laws do not apply in the friendly skies) and a smoke, a crazed-looking stowaway barges into the lounge and physically assaults one of the investigators. The Captain and crew quickly subdue the man and lock him in the cargo hold for everyone’s safety. It is here that things begin to get weird for the passengers.
Following a night of strange dreams, the investigators, save for one, are rudely awoken the next morning by Captain Meier and called on to account for events they can not recall. The only things they are sure of are the stowaway who assaulted them the evening before is lying dead on the cargo hold floor, and their missing associate was found asleep in the cargo hold. Suspicious, but with no other option available, the Captain asks for their discrete assistance in figuring out what happened.
As the investigators’ discrete investigation gets underway, the flight becomes increasingly terror-stricken. With only a few cryptic symbols near the body to go on, can the investigators solve the murder and, by happenstance, keep their sanity intact while doing so before the Nibelung safely lands in Germany or can make an emergency landing on the Iberian peninsula?
The Nightmare Flight presents situations and clues in a linear fashion, which makes sense given that the accessible areas of an airship are relatively limited. There is also only a small number of passengers and crew with which to interact. Should they find themselves unable to proceed, one passenger, an ambitious journalist, can be used to “help” them along without feeling like too much of a railroad. The confined nature of it, while some might see it as limiting players’ options, actually has quite a bit for the investigators to do. Pacing is essential to running the scenario according to the timeline.
Written as part of the RPG Writer Workshop in Fall 2021 and published through Chaosium’s Miskatonic Repository, The Nightmare Flight shares some of the shortcomings we often see from this combination. During these paid workshops, authors have only 30 days to write, produce, and publish a scenario. The accelerated timeline contributes to concerns we routinely see with these scenarios. The Nightmare Flight needs additional editing to address minor copyediting and developmental concerns. Thankfully, nothing is egregious enough to get in the way of enjoying this wonderful little scenario that can be played out in a single session. If the copy is polished up, this first-time author’s scenario will be taken to the next level, putting the writing and layout on even footings.
The layout of The Nightmare Flight is fantastic! From a presentation point of view, it has a similar feel to official releases. Everything is presented clearly, nicely arranged, and easy to read. The airship deck plans are well executed and give the reader a sense of the tight quarters aboard the Nibelung. Although I have no idea what Romans Popovs does professionally, they have an eye for graphics work and layout.
There is a pervasive sense of looming dread once the first incident happens in the smoking lounge. The feeling of fear and tension accelerates as the scenario proceeds along its timeline. If the Keeper establishes a decent pace, the stress and dread should never go away and will only increase.
Truth be told, I really like this scenario!
A postscript to this review, I contacted Romans after writing this review, but before publishing it, to provide feedback on my observations about the editing. As a result, I was hired to assist him with finetuning The Nightmare Flight. The changes resulting from my editing have polished the copy and addressed the developmental concerns I noted above. My thoughts regarding the scenario have not changed.
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