A Light in the Darkness, a Keeper’s Review
I asked the Call of Cthulhu RPG Facebook group for some one-shot suggestions, and this lead me to two suggestions. I was really looking for something different and fun and these two really stood out. One was Moonglow by John A. Almack and I will review that one another time. The other is A Light in the Darkness – Survival Horror in the WWII’s Pacific Theater by Matt Puccio. They had me at World War II and survival horror.
This review will be different from my usual reviews found on JustUs Productions in that I will be reviewing it from a Keeper’s point of view. The first part of this review will be my standard run down of the product, what I liked and what I didn’t like. The second half is my customization and additions I thought of while reading it. Eventually I will write a one shot report and tell you how these additions worked. I am not saying that this or any scenario I have run is badly written. These are just additions that popped into my mind while reading the scenario.
WARNING: SPOILERS! I am going to write this with the assumption that the reader is a Keeper and plans to run this scenario.
The scenario has a great set up, set in what I assume is a fictional island in the Pacific, where the players are a bunch of Seabees clearing up a airfield, getting it ready for US planes. I happen remember the old John Wayne movie, The Fighting Seabees. I loved that movie as a kid. The use of construction equipment in defense of their position was inspiring to me as a kid. While this scenario doesn’t really make the equipment available, there is no reason why the Keeper can’t at least present them as an option in the beginning encounter.
The Seabee characters are told that a VIP is arriving soon that they have to make themselves scarce and what they learn later is that it’s a special weapon to be used against the Japanese to end the war once and for all. No, it’s not the Manhattan Project. They call it Daybreak, and it’s much more Lovecraftian than a simple Atom bomb. Without getting into too much detail, basically a German scientist (and occultist) helped the US build a occult bomb in case the A-bomb doesn’t work.
I love the idea of a back-up plan to Manhattan. It is completely believable that the US Government would not have put all their eggs in one basket (although I suppose they did.) This makes it tangible to me and opens up all kinds of other ideas. The first thing I thought of was a Delta Green connection. I am not heavily into that setting but I would be if it was set it WWII.
Things go quickly awry once Daybreak arrives and the adventure comes down to surviving until the US Marines can save the Seabees. The Japanese make a counter attack, the players have to save Daybreak, and as it turns out, something is lurking on the island as well. The players have to make a mad dash through the jungle, toting the crate containing Daybreak, and hide in an abandoned Japanese bunker until things die down. Of course, things don’t go as planned.
Aside from all that (if that wasn’t enough), the writer of this scenario provides an alternative way to deal with bouts of madness through the use of cards provided at the end. These cards are tooled perfectly for the adventure. I have used custom cards before in a one-shot and these fall right in line with what I would do. I like the writer’s thinking. Additionally, he provides equipment cards with stats for all the various weapons the Seabee players may fine laying around. I like this a lot as well. In war, you never know what you are going to find laying around.
What I like about this is the set up and premise of the story. There is a lot of potential here. The problem I have with it is that a lot of it was left unexplored. While I would expect a survival horror game to be pretty sand-boxy in general, I do prefer a little more story elements thrown in to engage the players outside of “just survive.” Admittedly, I have found that if you add too much story to a survival horror, you give the investigator players a sense that they have a chance of not only surviving but stopping the big bad thing. So there is some balance you have to be aware of.
A sense of history to the island
While the adventure adds ruins like the taga lattte on Guam, I feel there needs to be a little bit more in the story that gives the players a sense of forboding that something is here. These could include:
Other ancient evidence
Carvings on the ruins disturb one of the players while the sit in the shade waiting for the plane to arrive during the “On the Promotory” phase, or some other clues that maybe something is weird going on here. Additionally, is there any ancient legends of this island being haunted. Grant it, this is an obscure island and there and thousands in the South Pacific with obscure legends, ruins and people groups. But there is a chance someone might know something.
Did the Japanese encounter or experience anything strange while on the island?
While the creatures might might not have escaped to reek havoc and horror on the Japanese occupiers, other things could have happened. Dreams, strange sounds, and other haunting events could have disturbed the soldiers. The other question would be how would the players find this information out, if in fact it did happen. The map has “destroyed buildings” which I assume are the Japanese buildings for the airfield. There can be plenty of intelligence in those that has not been destroyed. Give the players something there while they hide from the Japanese planes or something.
A timeline of events would have helped considerably – a Keeper’s only version and perhaps a Player’s version as well. When did this all start or has it been going on. An understanding of these events and a clear concise list by occurrence would help a keeper have a better grasp on the story.
Along these lines, I have decided that the island has always been somewhat haunted (thus no natives or indigenous peoples). Perhaps some legends are told about this island by the surrounding peoples. Not sure how the players would come across that but maybe they came from another island before this. The Japanese forces on this island suffered from sleeplessness, nightmares and general paranoia throughout their occupation. Discipline was a problem. Perhaps upon their arrival, they accidentally released a “Servant” or two. This lead to disappearances and more paranoia. They noticed the winds “changing” when these things happen, so they hung bamboo wind chimes all throughout the jungle. These create an eerie symphony throughout the jungle, until the creature appears when they go silent. (A sort of early warning system).
When did the Japanese discover the Bell? Did it occur before the US invasion of the island or after?
While reading, I never really got a sense of when the wall collapsed and the soldiers in the bunker rung the bell. I think it’s sort of implied but nothing outright says it. What I assume is that this all started right around the time of the US invasion.
Imagine the dread these soldiers already felt, sitting on this little meaningless island, defending it in a hopeless war, and a massive navy of the “devil” out there bombarding the island heavily. Meanwhile, they all are experiencing weird and horrifying things on the island (see above), on the edge of their own sanity. The creature, meanwhile, is feeding off this fear and insanity, death and destruction, making it much more aware of its surroundings, sending out more and more messages to drive these soldiers crazy. Something commonly written up as traumatic stress is actually something even more deeper and sinister. I definitely want to convey the sense of dread the soldiers felt; the fear they felt of the evil Americans, as well as the fanaticism they had for their cause, the emperor and the country.
I will post a One-Shot report after I run this. It looks like I will first run it for ConCarolinas 2019.