I added to these thoughts over a two-month long period from release of the PDF to this posting.
RPG Imaginings Stream-Of-Consciousness Children of Fear Reflections
Chapter 1: Reflections:
1) No work in Call of Cthulhu, to my knowledge, has devoted such thoughtful consideration to a common section as the "Involving the Investigators" section in this campaign. Great care has been taken to suggest potential character motivations for beginning the campaign and to designing investigators that are suited to the types of goals for the travel posed. I think this is solid modelling for considerations for any campaign start.
2) The "Experiential Learning" section suggests some of the most developed additions to the game for in situ learning mechanics for players. Anyone who Keeps the game knows that acquisition of specialized skills that are uniquely suited to a particular storyline just doesn't work with the existing RAW of the game, particular with learning languages. Narrative story-telling frequently requires characters to learn specialized skills more quickly. I think many an experienced Keeper (myself included) have resorted to house-ruling in this regard. Its nice to see suggestions for ramped-up skill training to be codified with such detail in an official product. I'm not saying that it is unique to this campaign. Other writers have certainly done variations. This section just seems to hit the problem head on. If a character needs Language (Chinese) to be effective in a campaign, the Keeper needs to give them opportunities to learn Language (Chinese) much more quickly than in the RAW.
3) This brings up another point I forgot to mention. You can also essentially choose the nature of the origin of the key locations as part of this. I know that's vague, but I don't want to spoil anything. Dr. Hardy has given us something like four potential Mythos explanations, making an unprecedented level of Keeper choice to suit the desires of different groups. And, as you say, non-Mythos is an option too! What that does is allow this game to be set into virtually any campaign, because there are options that allow one to fit it in to whatever your particular threat-vision or group aesthetic is.
4) I am also enjoying the "What Your Investigator Knows" handouts as an expeditious way to give context. I'm sad to say that many Western players may not know a lot about the Far East. Sad, yes, but true. And I think these handouts are particularly important for that context. One thing that I have always appreciated about Dr. Hardy's work is that she has a very clear forward-thinking vision as to how games play out, and what the practical needs are of Keepers and players.
Chapter 2 Reflections:
This campaign has a lot of potential for bringing up the ethical issue of Western interference in Eastern cultural history. I could see that being a major secondary plotline in a campaign. I also like how many of the NPCs are real historical figures. It means lots of additional background information that can be brought in at the Keeper's discretion.
Chapter 3 Reflections:
1) Experienced Keepers write tips and options into their writing to give different groups the options they need to have their particular flavor of fun. Subtle things like "reward ingenuity where possible" are important tips. This campaign is chock full of "this or that or this might happen" that helps Keepers anticipate outcomes.
2) Without spoiling too much, there is a campaign-wide mechanic that rates investigator decisions. I've always been a big believer in rewarding or penalizing investigators with tangible and intangible consequences for their choices. It can only help the immersion, in my opinion. RPGs tend to devolve into murder-hoboing simply because there are no consequences for thoughtless play. CoC has always been better at this than most other games. It is a distinct in-theme feature of this campaign.
3) This campaign is particularly good for teaching Keepers how to run campaigns and how to let player choice drive what happens in games. If the Chapters in this book give you the impression that it is "linear" until Chapters 4-6, that couldn't be further from the truth. Other than Masks, I've never seen a greater variety of encounter and lore options within individual Chapters. Many of the options are far more in-tune with the story than the sub-options in Masks. I'm not anti-Masks. I'm saying that there are dimensions of this campaign that very much seem to me to be comparable to Masks, or better. That is a compliment.
4) The campaign won't waste your time giving stat blocks for "generic profession" NPCs. Be real. The stat blocks of "Resident Archeologist" or "This One Priest" doesn't need to be different for the purposes of game execution in different Chapters. The generic professions section of the Appendices is a welcome replacement for (I'm sure unintentionally) wasting page count on producing stat blocks for every individual NPC, over and over again, when 90% of the stats are the same.
I'm going slow because I'm a print-reader. I can't read a PDF as fast as I can read print. But I'm really enjoying what I've read so far!
I just finished Chapter 3. Yes, I know. I'm slow. I'm a teacher and this is our worst year of our careers. I don't have a ton of time to read and focusing is a struggle right now.
1) Chapter 3 wasn't what I expected. It was better than I expected. The quandary that the investigators are faced with in obtaining a campaign McGuffin is complex and has many potential solutions. It screams "Classic 1920s CoC challenge for academics." I could see any group of players coming up with a unique solution to the problem.
2) The section headed "Missing Pieces" made me laugh out loud. I said to myself: "That escalated quickly." Players may not be able to succeed in their McGuffin-finding. No worries. The "solution" to their failure is dark. And I can imagine a major NPC nonchalantly explaining to them, with a straight face, what they would need to do. Good stuff.
3) I can't help but think of Dr. Hardy's scenario Scritch Scratch when reading this Chapter. @Lynne H, can you confirm that you are a fan of a particular terrestrial mammal?
Chapter 4 reflections:
I really enjoyed this Chapter and it was a quick read.
1) <compliment sandwich> I have many reasons for loving and playing CoC, and an opportunity to learn world and local history is one of the big ones. This Chapter is REALLY scratching my itch for that. There are dimensions of Buddhist and Hindu culture that are likely to really challenge some Western readers. And I think that is great. We grow when we are challenged. I'll give an example that I think is prescient. Some cultures feature genital mutilation as a rite of passage. These practices are (rightly) highly controversial, debated, and sources of activism in Western culture. But it is an incredibly challenging discussion because of the Western history of colonization attitudes, manifest-destiny policies, and aggressive attempts to covertly and/or overtly supplant indigenous religion. I'm not saying that to debate it here, but rather draw an analogy. The point is that there are aspects of culture here that are certainly likely to make Western players squeamish. I applaud Lynne for challenging readers.
2) For those of you who think I'm just a Chaosium yes-man, I do have a gripe at this stage. And it could just be my own ignorance of Eastern geography that is the real problem. There is a LOT of geographic territory covered in this campaign, much of it that Western readers may not recognize. That's fine, but I think there are aspects of the text that could do a bit of a better job of helping a Keeper out with locations. I recognize that this isn't likely to change before publication. Specifically, there will be sections that will talk a lot about specific routes that investigators could take in between locations. A lot of the time, half of the names don't appear on the maps. And maybe that is ok, because the intent is just to name the options without mapping it out for the sake of red-lining expediency. I'll reference the page 158 section "Getting to Sitavana" as an example. This is an example of a section in which a lot of locations have been mentioned before, but the maps of the immediate area in the Chapter don't mention half of the locations presented. This could be a problem for me in that I am simply a visual learner, or because I just need to accept the fact that the descriptions are simply "performance aides" for the Keeper to sound like they know the region. I just personally prefer text mentions of locations to be over-represented in maps. I recognize that there is an aesthetic variable of not making maps too busy. When I balance all those variables I end on the "frustration" side as a reader/Keeper, and that makes it worth mentioning to me.
3) I love the table on 168. It may be my favorite use of Luck as an investigator stat in anything I have read. He he he. In addition, given how important "ritualism" is in CoC, I think this particular table is a really good model for a general mechanic for any Keeper to use in setting investigators on a task to prepare effectively for a ritual. Ritual components do not just have to be a binary (you have a component or you don't). The quality of the component can and should matter. From a metagaming perspective, it is just another way to reward players who are careful and intelligent in how they solve problems. </compliment sandwich>
4) Full credit for use of the word "susurrations." #OxfordEnglishDictionary? 😜
5) I find Handout: Bones 5 to be interesting. It's good to have for Keepers needing expediency and could be ditched entirely by Keeper's wishing to have the teaching by the lama be a role-playing set piece that require players to carefully learn their role for the ritual. Different groups will value different approaches, and any could be successful here. A lot depends upon the prior choices players make earlier.
6) Suggested manias and phobias for a Keeper in specific situations are always appreciated. As is the Keeper aide provided on page 180!
It is now time to bust out an overview book I have on world religions and delve more deeply into Buddhism and Hinduism. I think it may actually help me to appreciate the campaign even more!
Chapter 5 first part
1) The use of dreams to continue to drive the action is a common and useful Call of Cthulhu trope. What sets this campaign apart from many scenarios/campaigns is the detail given in each Chapter to aide the Keeper in describing those dreams to players. Many scenarios will vaguely say things like “use dreams to keep the tension up for players” or something of the like. And in a short scenario, that may be perfectly adequate. But in a campaign of this size, the detail given to theming dreams as a cohesive whole while aiding Keepers with specifics is much appreciated.
2) The campaign really (rightly) punishes groups that don’t take on the aide of a major NPC. I mean, I won’t ever tell a group what to do or how to play a specific subset of investigators. But if they elect not to take the aide of this character, they’re really hamstringing themselves. Personally, as a Keeper, I would do everything that I could to subtly encourage them to take his aide. The person I’m referring to is also a very interesting character for role-playing, and I feel like a running of this campaign would suffer by side-lining him. I’m curious as to how it play-tested, which groups kicked him to the curb immediately, and how they fared as a result. I mean, the campaign writes in detailed suggestions for what to do if this happens, but I gotta think that option is only for groups that are really deliberately golf-handicapping themselves. I don't think this is a flaw of the campaign. I think that CoC groups should always avoid alienating potential allies. I've played in enough Con games to know that a lot of role-players can't help but engage in self-sabotage. If it's in character, fine. Just not my style.
3) I think Chapter 5 illustrates why a balance was struck for overall campaign locations. Anticipating travel between three locations, when the players can take them in any order, gets real complex real fast. People like things in threes. A fourth location would really increase the complexity. There is a lot of dense travel information in Chapter 5, but it would have to go somewhere. The decision was clearly made to arrange Chapters according to a “typical” route, which I think was the correct choice, with Chapter 5 including the “flex travel info” needed depending upon individual group choices. When needed by a Keeper, this information would be key.
Chapter 5 second part
Just finished Chapter 5. I doubt I'm going to be able to read the whole thing before it goes to print. Professional duties and a bunch of life groin-kicks have gotten in the way. If you want to pay me to be a proofreader I could finish it in time. 😜 I did find zero typos in the second half of Chapter 5, so kudos to the first few passes!
1) There are two boxes in Chapter 5 that do a really nice job of helping Keepers stay engaged on over-arching plot points and mechanics.
2) This section of the text answers a key concern I had with motivation and plot. I don't want to spoil it here, but if you're wondering how the baddies are able to do a baddie thing that at first seems illogical or unlikely, there is a very elegant explanation for how it happens. Makes sense.
3) I like the ally/antagonist/friend of my enemy is an enemy dynamic in the latter part of the Chapter!
Chapter 6 reflections:
I've been trying to synthesize my thoughts on this Chapter and what I keep coming back to is that the skills of the Keeper are going to factor in tremendously as to how it goes. I think that the "main event" featured in this Chapter is a real challenge to run, largely because it centers around the age-old table issue of how to work with players who have lost game autonomy. The key, I think, is description. Skilled Keepers are going to be at a great advantage in successfully running this Chapter. This Chapter is not for novice Keepers, and I predict that a novice Keeper could find themselves in a tough spot in which their players feel like the outcome was pre-ordained (even if it wasn't) or that their "success" was entirely due to chance. In addition, players could very well feel railroaded if a Keeper isn't careful at describing what they see. I'm not saying this is a "bad" Chapter. Just that I think it is very challenging to run effectively. I suppose I could make the argument about the whole campaign too. You need solid Keeper skills to run this.
There are a lot of rolls for the Main Event. I personally would not use the quantity of rolls suggested, but the rolls seem more designed to "prevent the investigators from failing" rather than "helping them succeed." The question will be what the "right" amount of rolls will be for a particular group, as I could see my group considering these rolls to be tedious.
All that said, the "main event" of this Chapter is the event that the game has built up to until this point. It is potentially very grisly and will need some level of veil for some groups. My group would, for sure, need it veiled, because of some pretty intense body horror. But for groups who like that sort of thing, it will scratch the morbid itch.
There are a lot of very useful Keeper aides in this Chapter that will help one keep track of the logistics. Dr. Hardy is truly a master of practical Keeping, in this regard. In most role-playing supplements, many of us find ourselves needing to spend time constructing even the most basic aides to run a certain game, and Dr. Hardy has anticipated the most critical of that work!
This Chapter has some really nice art.
The Karmic Balance mechanic sees direct utility here and I appreciate the description offered as to how each investigator may be impacted differently depending upon their Balance.
Tons of options are given here as to how to proceed with or conclude the campaign at this stage. There is a lot of fodder here for surviving investigators to continue within this narrative, or on to other adventures. Great care was clearly taken in suggesting options here.
I really like the setup of classic Mythos villain combined with new creature in this Chapter.
This campaign oozes "classic" 1920s as written. I truly believe, after six Chapters, that this one is going to go down in history as one of the greats.
Chapter 7 reflections:
This Chapter is an absolute delight. It not only follows a classic investigative arc, but adds depth and humanity to some campaign creatures in a Runequest Trollesque kind of way. This isn't unique to this campaign (Paper Chase is another notable example), but it is a Chaosium tradition to add depth and ethics to foes treated far more stereotypically by most game companies. That's why I play the types of games Chaosium makes. More deferential to quality story-telling. Less brutish, more intellectual. How's that for a compliment?
1) There are several plot-oriented environmental hazards in this Chapter that follow both the larger and smaller plot. Variety of challenge is the spice of life and this Chapter has it.
2) Care has been taken here to provide options for combat-oriented or investigation-oriented groups. There is nothing lazier (in my personal opinion) than role-playing scenarios that resort to "fight happens here because we need a fight." It happens way too often in role-playing writing. Yes, partly because some groups "expect" it. But many of us find it tired and cliched. This campaign is largely investigative and cultural and I cannot stress enough how important it it to me that Chaosium and Dr. Hardy have the courage to produce a campaign targeted at those of us who prefer classic character-interaction-focused gaming experiences.
3) This Chapter has a tremendous amount of utility, either in the context of this campaign or elsewhere. I think that even if the Investigators "succeed" and technically "end" the campaign in Chapter 6, Chapter 7 could quite easily serve as a backdrop for many different further adventures. There is a lot of substitution that can be had here. Dr. Hardy has created a wonderful underground "playground." I plan to use the framework of this scenario very soon in my own campaign, but with replacing the location, creatures, and McGuffin(s) with situations and objects unique to my own campaign.
4) The action location map is truly wonderful. I love great cartography.
5) There is just so much cross-referencing in this book. And I love that. Makes everything so much easier to run and to prepare for, for a Keeper. This is truly a campaign that serves as a culmination of everything we've learned about effective practical game-running in decades in the hobby.
6) Loving the suggestion of a non-human NPC joining the party if they are short on characters.
Chapter 8 reflections:
1) If you like tea, like I do (I'm partial to Jasmine and a good Darjeeling), this is the Chapter for you. I remember fondly my tour of the Cutty Sark when I visited London in '14.
2) If you have a charismatic villain, use them! I love the very forward approach here.
3) The environmental hazards escalate and are liable to be incredibly unnerving to the Investigators. Reminds me of certain popular science fiction franchises that shall remain unnamed. Perfect for Call of Cthulhu. Like elements of the prior Chapter, these could be dropped into any game.
4) There are tough ethical decisions in this Chapter for the grand finale. I appreciate the playtest notes and Keeper hints as to how investigator creativity might help them avoid a gruesome fate.
5) I like learning British colloquialisms from Call of Cthulhu authors from across the pond: "or by the investigators making a hash of things."
Appendix A (NPCs) reflections:
1) I very much like this idea of having a "stable" of generic NPCs by occupation to draw from. This campaign spans multiple countries over potentially a year and naming all of the NPCs that the characters might encounter in a Chapter wouldn't be feasible. Or it would just bloat the page count.
2) "couldn't give two figs about the concept of customer service" LOL
3) As with the previous comment, there are quite a few quality exercises in humor in this section. Don't skip the backgrounds of the generic NPCs!
4) The "real person" vignettes are a welcome addition.
5) The characters in this section could be used in virtually any campaign, with some modifications to cultural placement.
Appendix B reflections:
1) I think it is a really nice gesture for Chaosium to include the nearly full text of some Grand Grimoire of Cthulhu Mythos Magic spells in this text. Many of us, of course, possess the book, but some may not. It has allowed Dr. Hardy to use the full command of "the catalogue" in her writing, without setting some readers at a disadvantage. Many companies would quite cynically either cheapen the depth of narrative to not require it, or simply require the book to get full use of the campaign. Chaosium is considerate of gamers.
2) There are a lot of really nice "utility" style spells in this Appendix that I could see being very useful and interesting for a lot of investigative groups, even outside the confines of the campaign. They are all also appropriately costed, meaning that they aren't like DND cantrips or anything where they could be cast on a whim. Many require large investments of Magic points, so if an investigator wants to utilize them, they must be used infrequently. POW expenditures abound too. I am very much of the school of thought that investigators should have access to lots of spells in the game (this is an unpopular opinion), but that the costs of learning them and the costs of casting should be such that they really need to think long and hard if their use is "worth it." Mask of Reason stands out to me as a really fun spell (a key to this campaign!) with a cost "the number of Magic points the target possesses!" There are lots of twists on spell costs like that in this section. Another notable: "All Magic points but one," reflecting that the spell just basically exhausts your eldritch reserves.
Appendix C reflections:
I commented on this section in my early reading. This campaign is arranged so that Investigators may be regional. In that case, these handouts become "common knowledge" for your character. For non-regional investigators, these handouts effectively become "investigative red-lining" so that the first step of entering any populated area doesn't need to be a Library Use roll if that process can be expedited. Library Use rolls are reserved for highly specialized info instead. Interestingly, this is an example of a Call of Cthulhu campaign that isn't as heavily dependent upon the Library Use skill as others!
Appendix D reflections:
1) The need for overland travel in this region of the world is critical and the hiring of porters and guides is an absolute must. As such, this section gives you all the guidelines needed to work through the process. I can see it as being a key obstacle at the start of the campaign that gets progressively more "red-lined" as the action continues.
2) The perspective on the photo on page 254 is fun. There is a train of four camels, two riding abreast, but the photo makes it look like there are five- or six-legged camels.
3) As a part of the travel process, this Keeper would likely offer Investigators improvements in a concentrated area of their choice for observing the caravan in operation. Navigate, Survival, and Appraise (as reflected in the need to barter) might be candidates.
4) The Travel Times tables are super useful. In reading the text (I tend to read books sequentially, so didn't look ahead here) I was concerned about keeping track of travel times. This is handled with these Keeper aides!
Appendix E reflections:
1) I will definitely be checking out the resources listed here to learn more! Call of Cthulhu gives wonderful opportunities to learn.
2) The music suggestions are something that tends to not be included in these sections and is refreshing here. Targeted key words to search for on YouTube will make it very easy for Keepers to find appropriate regional music quickly.
Appendix F reflections:
1) Handout quality is superb, as is befitting one of Call of Cthulhu's signature features. Do you expect anything less? I'll tell you, once you play a game like Call of Cthulhu it's really hard to take the handouts of a lot of other RPGs seriously. I love Curse of Strahd, but the four handouts that the game offers, in the context of that game, is just a joke. Yes, I will throw shade at DND here.
2) I appreciate that the large regional map on 384-385 is full-page with no page numbers.
3) Subtle additions, like the external view of the Peshawar Museum on 391, are greatly appreciated.
Appendix G reflections:
This is an example of a campaign where I would probably ask my players to seriously consider using the pre-generated investigators. In lieu of that, I might ask them to re-spec their existing characters as "alternate universe" versions with slightly different backstories that match the skills proficiencies of these pre-gens. Although this campaign oozes Classic-era 1920s, I don't consider "Miskatonic Country" skill sets to be useful for this campaign.
I've commented on the extensive cross-referencing in this campaign before, and the index is very detailed. It includes multiple topical sections which will, no doubt, be very useful for Keepers.
Final thoughts (While drinking a cup of Blue Shadow tea. Yes, we have tea shops in Omaha, Nebraska. No, we aren't all farmers. 😜 )
I haven't run Children of Fear, so note that these have been my reflections on first read-through.
I think this campaign is exceptional, with an incredible amount of depth. I also think that this is a great overall addition to the Call of Cthulhu product line. Like Masks, this is not a campaign for novice Keepers. Chaosium has done a great job over 7th edition of providing resources for novice (Gateways to Terror, Call of Cthulhu Starter Set, Doors to Darkness), intermediate (Mansions of Madness Volume 1, Harlem Unbound, Two-Headed Serpent, A Cold Fire Within) and advanced (Masks of Nyarlathotep, Children of Fear, Horrors on the Orient Express) Keepers. It will take a fair amount of research and Keeper skill to run this effectively. But the result will be a spectacular foray into Hindu and Buddhist mythology, as well as a lot of regional culture.
There is a lot here to challenge people. Cannibalism, human-sacrifice, and charnal grounds are all aspects of Eastern religions that are likely to challenge Western players. Keepers will need to take care to know their groups and veil where appropriate. That is not a criticism. This campaign takes risks, and it will require an empathetic Keeper to mitigate the outcome of those risks.
I've commented many times before that Dr. Hardy and the Chaosium team know what it is like to run games. They are in our heads in writing this campaign. Running it will be easier as a result of their hard work.
I also need to comment that this is my style of Call of Cthulhu game. The emphasis here is largely on role-playing interaction, learning, exploration, and investigation. This is what Call of Cthulhu is, at it's core, in my opinion. It is different than a lot of Miskatonic Country investigations, and that is ok. We're globe-trotting here. And this is a region of the world hitherto not explored in-depth in Call of Cthulhu history.
I'm a "physical book gamer," so I likely won't run any aspect of this until the hard copy is released in February/March. I'll be picking up the Leatherette, as is befitting of a legacy work like this.
So, @Lynne H, I hope to hell you're proud of this work, because you should be.
Edited by klecser