Review of the Call of Cthulhu scenario Children of Chaac, written by Phil Anderson, the ninth entry in Type40’s Seeds of Terror series.
The scenario makes good use of its Chichen Itza setting, allowing for wide-ranging clue gathering in a larger play area and at a more leisurely pace compared to its sibling scenarios, leading up to one of the most memorable finales in the series.
Spoilers-lite for Players and Keepers:
Children of Chaac is the ninth entry in Type40’s Seeds of Terror, and the third in the loose ‘Idol’ trilogy written by Phil Anderson. Its predecessors, Crushed and A Stone’s Throw From Atlantis, are not directly related and can be played in any order, but they do make for an enjoyable three-parter if played one after another. The map is one of the largest in the series, competing with Crushed, and is one of the only entries that follows the ‘go to interesting places on a map’ type of scenario.
As with all Seeds, Children of Chaac is compact, taking up 7 pages of scenario text, 1 stat page, and 3 pages of handouts. There’s a nice map of Chichen Itza with places of interest marked for players to investigate (though not all, or even most, of the locations have any description in the text, but are touristy enough areas that could easily be googled), and the remaining two handouts are well produced as always. The five pregenerated investigators are as varied as the best of the Seeds, with fleshed out backgrounds giving plenty of roleplaying hooks. And even though it’s a very minor detail, some of the backgrounds take into account Mexico’s fragile situation in the early 1920s, and I appreciate anything that sets the characters in the time and place.
Most Seeds of Terror scenarios are either single locations or linear, making Children of Chaac stand out as one of the only ‘node’ based scenarios in the series. There are a handful of locations the investigators can explore, with each giving hints leading to other nodes. While obviously not a unique structure, it is well used here despite the very small page count, and it helps Children of Chaac stand out among its sibling scenarios and as an example of how to cram the ‘feeling’ of a wide-ranging scenario into a small package.
Along with Fish in a Barrel, Children of Chaac is one of the most ‘classic’ feeling scenarios, with a mix of investigation and Indiana Jones-esque adventure, and along with its novel setting of Chichen Itza, it’s an easy recommendation for an evening of play.
Though one of the largest Seeds of Terror scenarios in terms of the locations, I think Children of Chaac is also one of the easiest to run. There are a handful of locations the investigators can explore to find clues to what has happened and how to solve the ticking-clock, which is also easy for the Keeper to tweak to either hurry the payers or give them more time to poke around. With the possible exception of finding descriptions for locations around Chichen Itza that aren’t written about in the scenario text, there isn’t really anything that Keepers would have to prepare for. The scenario can be run straight as written.
The scenario opens with the investigators, a team commissioned by the Mexican government to inspect a restoration project at Chichen Itza, arriving at a hacienda used by the restoration team as a base camp. They find the building empty and ransacked, and on top of that an earthquake strikes. The investigators have to find the missing team, with the earthquakes acting as the ticking clock, hitting faster and faster as the Keeper requires.
With a few clues gathered at the hacienda the party has a map and a few ideas of where to go. If they go atop the main Chichen Itza pyramid, they’ll also spot some smoke rising over the treetops, giving a further option for exploration. There are three main points of interest, with the second being largely optional.
- An overturned truck and the source of the smoke. They’ll find some more clues and learn what happened to the team, as well as a statue that is key to ‘solving’ the scenario.
- A nearby hamlet. The investigators can learn a bit more backstory, and get an idea of the opposition they may soon be facing.
- The sacred cenote, a massive hole in the ground leading to vast submerged caves.
The end game starts at the cenote, and it is entirely possible the party will head straight there and miss out on the other locations. The easiest way to avoid this is by not mentioning the cenote at all until the investigators visit either the truck or the hamlet. The cenote does have a big red circle around it on the map though, so a determined party may still rush straight there anyways. If they do so, they may be in for a bad time, as the statue is needed to stop the earthquakes. A kind Keeper could allow the party to explore the cenote, learn they need the idol, then go back and get it. A less kindly Keeper could just spring the ending on them if they don’t thoroughly explore.
To stop the earthquakes, the party needs to place the statue at the bottom of the submerged cave on a pedestal, and with the help of some unusually friendly Deep Ones, restart a ritual that seals the cause of the eathquakes: an awakening Dhole. To reach the bottom of the cenote, one or two investigators must suit up in clunky diving equipment while two investigators operate an air pump and crane. This means the scenario should have at least three players to work, but the air pump and crane could be combined into one system if there are only two players.
While the investigators are diving, locals driven mad by the Dhole’s miasma attack, meaning the investigators above ground need to juggle operating the machinery with fighting off the attackers, with the further complication of potentially not wanting to kill the locals. This is a great set piece, and if your group is four or five players, it might be worth adding one or two more attackers to force the decision between keeping a person on the air pump or fighting back, potentially requiring the divers to hold their breath or suffocate for a few turns, all the while watching Deep Ones swimming around them and the earthquakes getting stronger and stronger.
If the investigator fail to place the idol and conduct the ritual, the Dhole awakens and begins consuming the earth from the inside out. World ends, game over.
In a series with plenty of colourful settings and wild set pieces, Children of Chaac is still able to stand out with its Yucatan jungles and diving-earthquake finale. It is also one of the most ‘traditional’ feeling scenarios with its node-based design, making it one of the best introduction scenarios for the Seeds of Terror series.