Seven Modern Era Adventures of Mystery and Death
Author: Brian M. Sammons
Publisher: Stygian Fox
Page Count: 156
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – $19.95
Print – Not Yet Available
Stygian Fox is best known for publishing modern-day Call of Cthulhu scenarios for mature audiences that push boundaries. Occam’s Razor was funded through a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in October 2018. It contains seven modern-day scenarios for Call of Cthulhu 7th edition. The book’s title speaks volumes and interestingly foreshadows its contents.
Warning: These scenarios deal with some alarming real-world topics and traumas. Each comes with a “content warning” on the first page. I strongly advise Keepers to heed these warnings and read each scenario thoroughly before talking to your players about a prospective scenario. Most importantly, know your players and their boundaries!
Note: Stygian Fox 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.
Brian M. Sammons is a well-respected game designer and scenario writer with many credits to his name. Outside of gaming, he’s best known as the fiction editor for Dark Regions Press. He’s also a published literary author and a part-time film and literary critic. Brian M. Sammons has a deep knowledge of the horror genre, a firm grasp of the Cthulhu Mythos, and the ability to craft stories.
Occam’s Razor, the title of this book, is derived from a real-world theory that is likely not apparent to most. Occam’s razor theory is defined as the simplest explanation is usually the best. To that end, the title is foreshadowing and telegraphing to those that know its duality.
Every scenario is written with Occam’s razor in mind—the simplest explanation is likely correct. Although investigators might suspect there to be a direct Mythos connection, the reality is, in fact, the opposite. Each mystery has mundane origins, but that makes them no less threatening, deadly, or downright terrifying to solve.
Scenarios include a “Must Have Mythos” sidebar. In these, Sammons offers viable suggestions for incorporating the Mythos into the mystery for those wanting that type of narrative. Each scenario has narrative elements that can easily switch from being primarily used as red herrings—feeding into investigator paranoia—to playing up to the Mythos elements. In addition to possible Mythos options, Sammons also provides some rather insightful Mythos advice that Keepers should find not only helpful but quite interesting.
Hands down, the duality of the scenarios is what sets Occam’s Razor apart from other books. The mundane nature of the scenarios is refreshing. However, injecting varying levels of Mythos influence into the mysteries gives it a certain je ne sais quoi.
Each scenario is self-contained; most are playable in a single 4- to 6-hour session; carryover into a second session is always possible. The scenarios are not linked to one another; it is recommended that key non-player characters be foreshadowed before appearing to increase player immersion and connections. Keepers wanting to insert any of these scenarios into an existing campaign should not have trouble whatsoever; none are dependent on any specific city or town in the United States or abroad.
Of the seven scenarios, five are missing-person cases, and one is about the death of a close friend of one of the investigators. The seventh is a unique case which I will explain in more detail momentarily. Every scenario is well written and nicely developed, but there is a recycling of themes. In addition to the missing person theme, four scenarios have college-age adults in protagonist and antagonist roles, and those same four center around colleges or universities. The use of common themes does not make the scenarios any less playable. It just gives them that recycled feel.
Unfortunately, it’s nigh impossible to give readers anything more than a high-level summary of each scenario without entering into spoiler territory. I will broadly add in advance of those summaries that each scenario uses callout boxes to provide Keepers with additional details, tips, and tricks to make the gameplay more unique or give deeper perspectives that can enhance the narrative.
A Whole Pack of Trouble
Kyle Alexander is a freshman away at college. It’s spring break, and it’s been four days since Kyle’s parents have heard from him. Fearing the worst, they contact local authorities. However, the police won’t help thinking Kyle has skipped off on spring break—as college kids do. With nowhere to turn, Kyle’s parents reach out for help. As written, “A Whole Pack of Trouble” follows the investigators as they piece together the clues. Investigators begin with minimal information; their search uncovers who is missing, where they’ve gone, and what becomes of them.
Eye of the Beholder
Amy Langan, a 20-year-old art major at a local college, has been missing for five days. Her roommate isn’t aware of any weekend or out-of-town plans and hasn’t seen her or her car in days. As the investigators follow the clues, they quickly learn there is more than meets the eye with this mystery. Ultimately they will find Amy, alive or dead. Their actions or inaction will determine Amy’s fate. Investigators will have plenty of digging to do and leads to follow.
David Bateham fails to turn up at a monthly scheduled luncheon with a long-time friend, one of the investigators. These luncheons are their chance to catch up and talk about their scholarly pursuits, something they have been doing for years. David’s not returning calls or texts. His friend and fellow investigators head to his house to check on him. Upon arrival, they find no one home, and initial signs point to something happening within the house. Piecing together David’s movements leads investigators to learn the horrible truth. They will also learn of the dark realities of human depravity deep in the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Dark and Deep
A dark web snuff film comes to the attention of the investigators. The footage appears genuine, shot in Nightvision, and portrays a pretty 20-something-year-old woman running down the beach. She’s breathing heavy and crying, moving toward the water and crashing waves. It ends with her death at the hands of a creature reminiscent of the “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” “Dark and Deep” is the story of the woman featured in the film known as Abyssal End. As the investigators look into the film’s authenticity, they come to learn a lot about it, her demise, and the production company.
Visions from Beyond
College is a time of change and growth; James Weiter is just another college kid trying to find himself. He’s socially normal, belongs to a fraternity, and enjoys his hobbies. Late one night, he calls one of the investigators (they’re either an aunt/uncle/teacher) in a panic. He frantically yammers seemingly incoherently about having gone too far, needing help, that he’s in danger, they’re going to kill him. Inconsolable James doesn’t let the investigator get a word in edgewise… the line goes dead. In “Visions From Beyond,” investigators travel to Windsor College to check in on James and his well-being. Their initial findings only serve to further muddy the waters; James is still missing, and he’s still not answering his cell phone or returning texts.
“The Watchers” is the uniquely different scenario I mentioned above. This short scenario is the story of a mentally ill woman named Linda Lopez, who has schizophrenia. She believes a group of unidentified individuals routinely seen outside her apartment is watching her. She calls in the investigators to help; she further confides she saw a tall shadowy figure step from the shadows and join the two watchers. She hides her illness from investigators, resulting in them being sent on a wild goose chase.
According to Sammons, “this short scenario exists for a few reasons, one of which is to teach reckless investigators a few lessons in approaching a mystery in a game: they should question everything, or at the very least, always be cautious.”
A Cleansing Flame
Professor Jason Seeley has direct connections to one or more of the investigators. As of late, he’s been a little distracted due to his work and recent research. Investigators learn of his untimely demise in the college’s parking garage under strange circumstances. Looking into the circumstances surrounding his death, they begin to uncover many layers, but not everything is as straightforward as it might seem. Time is on their side, but for how long?
I can best summarize the scenarios not by saying the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” but rather, flipping Aristotle’s classic phrase on its head. In all honesty, I feel the parts are better than the sum total. This should not be taken as negative criticism. I simply think the scenarios stand best on their own as singular examples of what can be done with Call of Cthulhu—playing up to their strengths or the mundane nature and for those wanting that Mythos connection, the duality inherent in each.
Occam’s Razor is a beautiful 8.5 x 11, full-color hardcover book. The artwork is impressionistic and evocative of the scenarios in which they are included—there is no shortage of art in this book. Guillaume Tavernier’s cartography is wonderful, really giving the viewer a sense of being there. However, there are some disconnects between artists’ depictions of a location and Tavernier’s cartography. The one example that really stands out to me is the lighthouse in “Dark and Deep.” The artist portrays it as a tall multistory lighthouse with an external wraparound staircase. Tavenier’s art and accompanying cartography portrays it as a short lighthouse with no external staircase and an attached lightkeepers cottage.
Handouts and cartography are reproduced at the end of the book, along with six pre-generated investigators. Pre-generated investigators are members of the Sandings Investigative Agency, all looking pretty average in their builds.
The developmental editing is rock solid. Every scenario is well crafted and developmentally sound. The book could, however, use another round of professional proofreading. There are a number of basic grammatical errors and stylistic errors in every scenario. None of these prevent Keepers from running the scenarios. Still, they are glaring enough that even the casual reader is likely to notice them. Quickly comparing the digital and print versions, I can see the publisher went back and corrected the digital book after printing the physical book.
Occam’s Razor is canon breaking and uniquely different in a good way. It has a certain appeal and charm that I feel some Keepers will appreciate, others not so much. The mundane explanation at the heart of every scenario captures Brian M. Sammons’ twisted creativity nicely. How he’s intrinsically woven in the ability to flip them easily to Mythos oriented speaks volumes to the depth of his knowledge and creativity. This is a damn good reason to own the book if no other reason!
As a backer of the Kickstarter (PDF level), I am disappointed at the number of proofreading errors, considering the excessive delays in getting this book into the hands of backers. As I stated above, it doesn’t affect the playability, but there was ample time to spot and make these corrections. I remain hopeful that Stygian Fox will up their game and address their quality control in future products.
In addition to my concern regarding the need for additional proofreading, I feel the book’s covers do not adequately convey the contents to prospective buyers in a retail setting. With no introduction on the inside, consumers must rely on the covers to sell them on the contents; the back cover states “…and extreme cosmic horror…”. Buyers are likely to think they are purchasing a collection of traditional Call of Cthulhu scenarios unless they have done some internet research beforehand.
Despite my criticisms, which are minor in the grand scheme of things, I really like the book and look forward to incorporating some of its scenarios into future campaigns I am devising.
Buy the book if you want something expressly different, albeit mundane, to challenge your players! Now, if you’re like me and enjoy having a physical copy, just know there are some concerns. If you’re a digital kind of person, stick with the PDF; the latest version appears to be up-to-date.
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